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Patent Overview

A patent for an invention is the grant of a property right to the inventor, issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The right conferred by the patent grant is, in the language of the statute, “the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling” the invention in the United States or “importing” the invention into the United States. Thus, what is granted to the inventor is the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, selling or importing the invention. Once a patent is issued, the patentee must enforce the patent without aid of the USPTO. U.S. patent grants are effective only within the United States, U.S. territories, and U.S. possessions. Foreign patents must be obtained in order to enforce rights in other countries.

Utility Patents – A utility patent protects the structure, composition, or function of an invention. A utility patent can protect a physical device, a step-by-step method (which can be used to cover things like software or methods of manufacturing chemicals), or a composition of matter (e.g., biological or chemical).

  • Generally speaking, a utility patent lasts 20 years from the earliest filing date.

  • Maintenance fees must be paid at 3.5, 7.5, and 11.5 years after the patent was issued.

  • A utility patent can have either broad or narrow protection depending on how broad the USPTO allows the patent’s claims to be.

Design Patents – A design patent is used to protect the ornamental and non-functional aesthetics of a product. It protects the look of a product, which may include coloration. 

  • A design patent will last 14 years if it was filed before May 13, 2015, and it will last 15 years if it was filed on or after May 13, 2015.

  • A design patent does not require any maintenance fee payments after the patent is issued.

  • A design patent is relatively narrow in scope and will only protect the design shown in the patent and other designs which are substantially similar.

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