Patent Basics

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Patent Basics

Patents prevent the unauthorized use by others of an inventor's patented discovery. While "mere ideas" are not patentable, patents come closer to any other form of intellectual property except trade secrecy to protect ideas. The US Supreme Court has noted three specific exclusions from patent protection -- laws of nature (e.g., gravity), natural phenomena (e.g., lightning), and abstract ideas -- with abstract nature not being easy to define. And, there are additional regulations that limit patent protection, such as, for example, the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 excludes the patenting of inventions used solely in the utilization of special nuclear material or atomic energy.

Patents filed in the United States tend to fall into four categories -- (1) provisional patents that provide inventors the option of filing a lower-cost first patent filing and that require the corresponding non-provisional patent application be filed not later than 12 months after the provisional application filing date, (2) utility patents that cover new and useful machines, compositions of matter, products, processes (including business methods and computer algorithms), or improvements, (3) plant patents that cover distinct and new varieties of plants, and (4) design patents that cover new, original and ornamental designs for articles of manufacture.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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