Guide to Laws Protecting Inventions in the United States (Patents)

Here are the basics about patents and patent law in the U.S.

Patents are sometimes confused with copyright, trademark, or trade secret. But these are all different types of intellectual property. In brief, here is what each category protects:

  • Patent protects original useful ideas.
  • Copyright protects original creative works.
  • Trademark protects branding such as business names and logos.
  • Trade Secret protects important business related information, such as recipes and lists of customers.

What is a patent?

A patent issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) gives an inventor the right to exclude others (within the U.S.) from making, using, or selling the invention.

How long does a patent last?

A utility patent is generally effective for 20 years from the date of filing, although extensions or adjustments may be available.

A design patent is generally effective for 14 years from the date of issuance.

Is a U.S. patent effective around the world?

No. A U.S. patent is effective only within the United States, U.S. territories, and U.S. possessions.

What can be patented?

There are three types of patents:

1. Utility patents are issued for new and useful processes, machines, articles of manufacture, or compositions of matter, or any new and useful improvement of such things.

2. Design patents are issued for new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture.

3. Plant patents are issued to those who invent or discover and asexually reproduce any distinct and new variety of plant.

Can I patent my idea?

Patents don’t apply to ideas themselves, but instead on the actual invention or design. Thus the invention or design must be described in detail.

How much does it cost to get a patent?

Government filing fees for a patent are a minimum of $500-1000. But because you almost certainly need a lawyer, including legal fees, a patent application generally costs at least $10,000.

Can artificial intelligence (AI) be credited as an inventor on a patent?

No. Only “natural persons” may be listed as an inventor on a patent.

Can I get a patent for an invention if I use AI to develop it?

Yes, if you jointly develop an invention using AI, you can get a patent for that invention. And you do not need to name the AI that helped.

Further Information

For more, see the USPTO website.

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Photo credit: Photo by Ani Kolleshi on Unsplash

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