What are Patents?Patent protection is generally the most important form of intellectual property. Patents protect inventions, such as products, processes or compositions of matter OR improvements to products, processes or compositions of matter. Patents provide the owner with the right to exclude others from making, using, selling, offering to sell or importing the patented invention. Patents provide the owners with a “negative right” to exclude, but they do not give the right to use. This negative right to exclude can be used to develop a monopoly.
Patent protection is limited in duration. Under current patent law, the term of a U.S. patent can vary depending upon certain events that occur during the prosecution of a patent. The basic term of a patent begins at issuance and lasts until 20 years from the date on which the patent application was filed. Since it usually takes three years to obtain a patent, the term will usually last approximately 17 years. Also, current patent law allows the term to be extended for delays that occur during the prosecution of a patent. However, any extensions can be offset by delays created by the applicant.
Patents are governed by federal substantive law, are issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and are enforced in the federal courts.
There are three different types of patents: utility patents, design patents and plant patents. As the name implies, utility patents protect “useful” inventions. Utility patents can be used to protect products, processes, compositions of matter and improvements thereof.
Design patents protect ornamental features of a product. Design patents are often thought of as being less important than utility patents and are, consequently, overlooked by persons seeking patent protection. However, design patents can be very effective forms of intellectual property in certain cases.
An invention may have both utilitarian and aesthetically desirable features. As a result, an inventor may seek both a design patent and a utility patent to cover different aspects of the invention. There may also be overlap between design patent protection and copyright protection.
Since a plant patent has nothing to do with the thermal-processing industry, we will not discuss it here.