If you're an inventor with a new product or new product idea, chances are you'll want to protect your invention by securing a patent. According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, a patent grants an inventor the right of property to a new invention, including “the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling” the invention. Establishing your patent doesn't prevent others from infringing on your invention, but it does help to establish your legal rights if they do.
Verify that your invention is patentable. U.S. patent law specifies that a new or improved machine, process, composition or article of manufacture may be patented, along with ornamental designs and new plant hybrids. Abstract ideas, literary or art works, physical processes or laws of nature and un-useful items (machines that don't actually work) are not patentable.
Check that your invention will be considered novel (incorporating a new feature or concept), not obvious (such as floating ice), is clearly described in definite terms and is useful for some purpose. Your invention must actually exist to meet this final test.
Determine what type of patent you need: a design patent (such as for sculpted furniture), a patent for a new hybrid or type of plant, or a utility patent, which covers new or improved machines, processes, compositions and articles of manufacture. You'll also need to decide if you'd like to file for a global patent or for one that's only valid in the United States.
Have a patent search done to ensure that your invention does not infringe upon or duplicate another patent. You may hire a patent attorney to perform this service, or the Patent and Trademark Office will perform a search for you for a fee of $810.00 (as of November 2010).
Prepare your patent application. Patent applications are complex documents, and the Patent and Trademark Office recommends that you hire a “registered attorney or agent” to complete your application. Be sure to hire an attorney who specializes in patent law, as this specialized area will not be familiar to attorneys who have never been involved in patent work before.
Submit your completed patent application with the appropriate processing fee. The average processing time for a new patent application as of November 2010 is one year, though this time period may extend to up to three years for some specialty patents.
If your patent application is accepted and a patent granted, submit the issue fees and publication fees required to receive your patent. If granted, your patent will be effective from the date it was filed, rather than the approval date.
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