Utility Patents: What Inventors Need To Know Before Filing A Patent Application
First, a very quick overview of patents:
A patent issued for an invention by the United States Patent and Trademark Office grants an inventor the sole right and ownership over an invention.
This right bars other parties or companies from using, producing, selling, or proposing offers to sell that invention within the United States, or import the invention into the United States.
Keep in mind that while this is indeed gospel, it is still the job of the patent owner to enforce these rights. You should understand patent law and what infringement is.
Methods, techniques, processes, devices, software, compounds and most other things referred generally to as inventions or are covered by the utility patent.
Popularly referred to as the “patent for invention,” utility patents cover the major invention classes and protect the unique modes of operation of inventions.
It is a must for inventors to protect their products, processes and invention ideas.
In general, utility patents are issued for the various forms of inventions that bring forth useful, unique and new products.
If you want that defined as something a little more tangible and easier to latch onto, then think of it like this:
If you are creating a new product, a new software, a new gadget, or improving the way an existing one works, you are more than likely going to need to file a utility patent.
If you're idea is around aesthetics, decoration or ornamentation, then you'd be barking up the design patent tree.
Some Specifics Of Utility Patents
The U.S. patent laws are authorized by the Constitution.
The public policy that underlies patent laws is in place to encourage inventions and new innovation.
When an inventor has an invention and patents it, they are granted the exclusive right to make, use and sell the invention for the term of the patent.
Utility patents are designed to protect a variety of new technologies, manufacturing processes, electronics, chemical compounds, and mechanical or chemical processes (and more).
If the invention or process, however, is a mere abstract concept, the USPTO would pass on protection. This is why inventors work so hard upfront to develop their ideas.
Mechanical inventions are typically new combinations of older components, revamped to perform a new function or highlight a new feature. This is often referred to as an improvement patent, and in these scenarios the USPTO would determine whether or not the improvement is significant and unique enough to warrant the patent issuance.
Some inventions that would fall under the Utility Patent category require special considerations and the inventor must often be prepared to demonstrate that their invention is unique, useful and non-obvious. (So hopefully you've done your patent search homework well)
A utility patent application must contain a thorough description of your invention, detailed enough to meet the requirements under 35 U.S.C. 112.
Quick translation: The instructions are sufficient to enable a technically trained reader to carry out, manufacture and use the invention.
After the utility patent application is prepared and filed, the Patent Office will examine the application for utility, novelty and non-obviousness. The USPTO goes through a process of comparing your claimed invention to any prior art.
The inventor can expect the Patent Office to refute at least some of the claims on the grounds of obviousness or lack of novelty.
They may also object to the wording of your claims or the fact that they may cover more than one invention.
In response you can amend the application, but this is not an opportunity to add to it or extend your idea.
If the inventor satisfies these objections, the patent is issued after the payment of an issue fee (see image below for fee schedule).
A utility patent has a potential existence until a date twenty years from the filing date, provided maintenance fees are paid when the patent is 3.5, 7.5 and 11.5 years.
How Much Does A Utility Patent Cost?
Depending on when you read this, the fee schedule below may be outdated. However, this is certainly a general indication of what it will cost you to obtain a utility patent. (Current as of August, 2016)
Benefits Of Being Rewarded A Utility Patent For Your Invention
Generally, utility patents are issued for inventions that aim to bring useful, unique and new products to market. Some of the important things inventors should know about utility patents are as follows:
Utility patents protect your invention (or well-developed invention idea)
A utility patent grants an inventor sole proprietary ownership of his/her invention.
This ensures that other inventors or manufacturers cannot produce a similar invention with similar or near-like functionalities without infringing upon the patented invention.
Legally, a utility patent protects an invention from being reproduced or replicated by manufacturing companies or other inventors without getting prior permission from the inventor who holds the patent.
With a utility patent, an invention or invention idea, within the period of the patent, cannot be stolen, reproduced, sold or used by another party.
Essentially, this protection over the patented invention extends over a period of twenty years from the date of filing the utility patent application.
This protection offered by the utility patent is what makes it so crucial - this is the piece that ensures you, the inventor, see the fruit of your work (yes, I'm talking about making cash from your invention).
Utility patents also cover various forms of the patented invention. Why am I telling you this?
Well, if you file a design patent, your window of protection is narrow - you're basically protecting against a replica.
With utility patents, your protection widens to like-inventions - things that are very similar to yours. This ties back to the non-obvious nature of being approved for the patent you file as an inventor.
Profiting From Inventions With Utility Patents
For an inventor who has the intellect and presence of mind to think up new, unique and novel ways of manufacturing a product, or one who came up with an invention process or idea, the reward for brilliance should be to ultimately profit from the invention or invention idea.
Let's do some real talk here; generally, this is the aim of all inventors who decide to manufacture their own invention directly is to make profits from their invention or invention ideas.
As inventors we absolutely want the world to benefit from our ideas.
But there is almost always a financial motivation as well.
Between those two driving factors -- changing the world and making money -- there will always be a muse when the going gets tough and you want to give up.
One of the most common causes of failure is the habit of quitting when one is overtaken by temporary defeat.
I get it, Napoleon...when you are overtaken by what feels like temporary defeat, start thinking about cash!
This aim of a financial upside comes to fruition only with a utility patent in place.
Without a utility patent, other inventors or manufacturing companies can steal your novel ideas or manufacturing processes for their own use; they can actually also sell or reproduce the invention or invention idea and claim it as their own by patenting it themselves. (So there's that...)
Earning Royalties By Licensing
Due to the generally high financial constraint on inventors to personally manufacture their inventions, it could be easier to simply license inventions or invention ideas to a manufacturing company or other entity.
By licensing, the inventor legally grants the manufacturing company or third party the full right and autonomy to produce and sell the invention, or fashion the invention idea into the production of a viable product.
This license usually lasts for an agreed length of time and within specific locations and borders.
Licensing an invention ensures that an inventor earns royalty on such invention or invention idea, periodically, or as a huge one-time payment, aka "lump sum."
Hence, most inventors decide to take the easiest route to commercializing their invention, and earn royalties by leasing out their invention or invention ideas to a manufacturing company or other third parties.
For an inventor of a new product, idea or process, who intends to license such invention or invention idea to a third party or manufacturing company, obtaining a utility patent is imperative.
Generally, as a rule, no manufacturing company will agree to pay royalties to an inventor of an unpatented product or invention process. Actually, they would rather take the invention or invention idea and sell or utilize it in a production process without any legal ramification.
After Being Awarded Your Utility Patent, Seek Funding From Investors