What Inventions are Patentable?
Patent rights are granted by the US Constitution, specifically, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8:
The Congress shall have power…To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and inventions.
A patent gives the creator of a new or innovative product or process the right to control its use and sale for a specified period of time. However, not all original works are patentable. A patentable invention must fall into certain statutory categories: process, machine, article of manufacture, composition of matter, or an improvement over an existing idea.
Patents are labeled as utility, design or plant patents.
Utility patents encompass inventions, devices or processes that are useful in some way. Such patents are granted for a specified period of time, currently 20 years from the earliest priority date.
Design patents protect new, original and ornamental designs for an article of manufacture. This can include surface ornamentation, innovative shapes or configurations, or a combination of these. Design patents do not protect the functionality of any article. The term of a design patent is 14 years.
Plant patents encompass unique plant material asexually produced, that is, produced by means other than seeds, such as grafting or cloning. If the plant cannot be duplicated by asexual reproduction, a plant patent is not appropriate. Still the patented plant must be novel or distinctive.
To be patentable, an invention must be New or Novel, Useful and Non-Obvious. While these concepts can be very confusing and complicated, they are generally defined as follows.
To be new, an invention must not have been patented by another prior to the date of the invention. It also must not have been made, sold or known by the public by the patent applicant more than one year prior to filing the patent application. This requirement refers to the patent applicant’s own actions.
To be novel the invention must not have been already known by the public at the time of the invention. This requirement refers to the body of knowledge that was “in the public” at the time of the invention, known as the “prior art.”
To be useful, an invention only has to have some practical use and be functional. The use need not be serious, for example, the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issued a patent in 1999 for a novel motorized ice cream cone spinner. Additionally, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) often rejects applications for “perpetual motion machines” on the basis that they will not work as the inventor claims.
Finally, the invention must also be non-obvious, which means that the invention must be considered not obvious over what existed before by a person having ordinary skill in the pertinent field. Specific application of these principles to a particular set of facts should be done by a competent patent attorney.
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Protecting your intellectual property rights is a complex business. If you suspect that your product might have been infringed, it may be advisable to rely on the expertise of an experienced IP rights lawyer to protect your rights. The Intellectual Property team at the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin is headed by Attorney Tara J. Williams, a patent attorney with more than 20 years of legal experience. The firm also has a unique contingency based Intellectual Property Department for certain infringement matters. The department’s goal is to assist small-business owners, artists and inventors to protect their creative endeavors when they may not otherwise have the resources necessary to do so. Call 1-866-760-4047, for a free, confidential review of your potential claim – or simply complete the contact form on the side of this page.