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What entrepreneurs should know about patents

Posted by Shivali Anand

August 10, 2021    |     3-minute read (605 words)

In the early stages of a startup’s product development, getting a patent may be overlooked in the rush to take care of more pressing matters, or perhaps deemed too expensive. But protecting your inventive idea or process with a patent secures your intellectual property and should be prioritized. Without this protection, businesses and individuals can’t reap the full benefits of their inventions.  

What is a patent, and how does it work? 

A patent is a limited-duration property right pertaining to an invention, granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office in exchange for public disclosure of the discovery or invention. Some examples of patentable materials include machines, manufactured products, industrial processes and chemical compositions.  

Patents fall into three categories:

  1. Utility patents: Individuals who develop or discover a functioning machine, process, object of manufacture or composition of matter may be granted a utility patent. Utility patents account for the majority of applications at the USPTO. 

  2. Design patents: Individuals who invent a new, original and ornamental design for a manufacturing product may be granted a design patent. 

  3. Plant patents: Individuals who invent or discover, and asexually reproduce a distinctive new plant variety may be granted a plant patent. 
Per the USPTO, a patent gives the patent holder "the right to restrict anyone from making, using, offering for sale, or selling" the invention or discovery in the United States, or importing the invention. 

Procuring a patent

When applying for a patent, it's wise to retain the services of an experienced patent attorney who understands the complexities of intellectual property law and can prevent mistakes that might cost you money later. Here are the general stages of the application process: 

  1. Checking the USPTO website to see whether your work has previously been patented. 

  2. Determining whether you require a utility, design or plant patent.

  3. Making an application for a provisional patent. This safeguards you in the event someone says they came up with the concept first. The U.S. patent system is based on the “first to file” approach rather than “first to invent.”  

  4. Fill out this form to become a Registered eFiler. You can also file via mail or fax. 

  5. Gather all information required for your official application. This section comprises an abstract, background information, a summary, a thorough explanation and your conclusion, which should address the implications and scope of your work. You must also specify your patent's legal scope. 

  6. Fill out and submit your official application. A patent application typically takes one to three years to process. Make sure you get it as near to perfect as possible the first time. 

  7. Your case will be assigned to a patent examiner. Any requests, concerns or information will be sent to you or your attorney. Respond as quickly as possible. 

  8. You will receive a notice of allowance if the examiner deems your application suitable. In this instance, the issue fee and the publishing fee must be paid before the patent may be issued. 

  9. Pay the maintenance fee, which is required to keep the patent active. The patent may be revoked if the maintenance fee or any relevant extra is not paid. 
How long does it last? As per the USPTO, utility and plant patents last for 20 years from the day the application was submitted in the USPTO, or in certain circumstances, from the date an earlier related application was filed. 

For applications submitted on or after May 13, 2015, design patents are valid for 15 years from the date of issuance or 14 years from the date of issuance if filed before May 13, 2015. Patent term extensions or modifications are possible under specific circumstances. 

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