FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

1What is Intellectual Property (IP)?
Intellectual property refers to creative works or ideas expressed in a way that can be shared with others and or enable them to recreate, emulate, or manufacture them. Intellectual property can be protected in four ways: patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets.
2What is a trademark?
A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol or design used in commerce to distinguish one source of goods from another. A service mark is the same, except is distinguishes the source of services between one provider and another. Registration of a trademark is not required, though registration has advantages.
3What is a trade secret?
A trade secret is information that companies keep secret to give them an advantage over their competitors. There is no existing method to federally register or record a trade secret.
4What is a copyright?
A copyright protects "a person's exclusive right to reproduce, publish, or sell his or her original work of authorship (as a literary, musical, dramatic, artistic, or architectural work)."

Copyright law covers the "form of material expression," not the actual concepts, ideas, techniques, or facts in a particular work. A copyright protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works. The copyright lasts the duration of the individual author’s life, plus 70 years. For works created anonymously, pseudonymously, and for hire, protection lasts 95 years from the date of publication or 120 years from the date of creation, whichever is shorter.
5What is a patent?
A patent for an invention is a grant of property rights to the inventor that provides the right to exclude others from exploiting the invention during that period. In the United States these are granted by the Patent and Trademark Office, typically for the period of 20 years from the patent filing date (a design patent is granted for 14 years).

There are three types of patents:
  • Utility patents - may be granted for the invention or discovery of any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof.
  • Design - may be granted for the invention of a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture.
  • Plant - may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plant.
6What’s the difference between a design patent and a utility patent?
A design patent protects an article’s outward appearance (design) while a utility patent protects the article’s function. Sometimes an invention may qualify for both types of patent protection, and in that case the inventor needs to apply for both separately.
7What rights does a patent provide, exactly?
A patent for an invention is a grant of property rights to the inventor that provides the right to exclude others from exploiting the invention during that period. In the United States these are granted by the Patent and Trademark Office for the period of 20 years from the patent filing date.
8How long does patent protection last?
Patent protection is granted for a limited period, generally 20 years from the filing date of the application. A design patent, if issued by the USPTO, is granted for 14 years.
9What rights does a patent provide?
A patent owner has complete rights over who can use the invention during the time in which the invention is patented. The invention cannot be commercially made, used, distributed, imported, or sold by others without the patent owner's consent.
10Who can apply for a patent?
A patent may be applied for only in the name(s) of the actual inventor(s).

However, it’s common for the owner of an invention to be another person or even a business entity- for example, if the invention was created as part of an inventor’s employment or if the inventor sold or transferred the invention to someone else. If the invention has been has been assigned to another person or business entity, then the other person or entity may apply for a patent as the legal owner of the invention.

If an invention has multiple inventors, only one patent application needs to be filed. Each inventor listed on a Patent Application receives an equal, undivided interest in a patent if it’s issued.
11How do I apply for a patent?
Inventors can apply for two types of patent applications: (1) A non-provisional application, which begins the examination process and may lead to a patent and (2) A provisional application, which establishes a filing date but does not begin the examination process. Both types of patent applications can be filed either electronically by using the Electronic Filing System (EFS) or in writing to the Commissioner for Patents.
12What’s the difference between a Provisional and Non-Provisional Application?
A Provisional Patent Application is an inexpensive method that allows protection of an invention while an inventor decides whether or not to pursue full patent status, do any market testing, etc. It lasts for 12 months and does not require a formal patent claim, oath, or declaration. Applicants can use the term “patent pending” after filing a provisional application.

Once a Provisional Patent is filed, the applicant has exactly one year (if the invention hasn't previously been publicly disclosed) to file the Non-Provisional Application for the same invention. The inventor must file a Non-Provisional Application within that time in order to protect the ownership rights to the invention because the Provisional Application for Patent with be deemed abandoned after a year.

A Non-Provisional Patent starts the official examination process with the USPTO to determine whether or not your invention is patentable. It also establishes an invention’s filing date.
13What does "Patent Pending" mean?
This term is often used by a manufacturer or seller of an invention to inform consumers and others that a patent application has been filed with the USPTO. Being able to say “patent pending” conveys to others that you have taken steps to protect your idea, and warns them that if they try to copy your idea, they can face legal consequences.
14What do I need to include in my Provisional Application for Patent?
A Provisional Application for Patent is considered complete and eligible for a filing date once the USPTO receives:
  1. A written description of the invention.
  2. Any necessary illustration(s) of the invention.
  3. The names of all inventors.
  4. The filing fee.
  5. A cover sheet or electronic filing identifying:
    • The application as a provisional application for patent.
    • Inventor name(s).
    • Inventor residence(s).
    • Title of the invention.
    • Correspondence address.
    • Name and registration number of an attorney or agent and docket number (if applicable).
    • Any U.S. government agencies with a property interest in the application (if applicable).
15How do I know if my invention is patentable?
There are numerous conditions that must be met in order to obtain a patent. Some of these include:
  • The invention must have an element of novelty, meaning a characteristic not yet known to exist in its technical field. This body of existing knowledge is called “prior art.” A patent agent can help you with a “prior art” search.
  • The invention must involve an “inventive” or “non-obvious” step, which means that it could not be obviously deduced by a person with ordinary skill in that field.
  • The invention must be useful or capable of industrial application- able to be used for an industrial or business purpose beyond theory.
  • Subject matter of the invention must be considered patentable under law.
  • The invention must be disclosed in an application in a manner that is sufficiently clear and complete so that it can be replicated by a person with an ordinary level of skill in the relevant technical field.
  • A patentable design must be non-offensive to any race, religion, sex, ethnic group or nationality.
16How can I determine if my patent has already been patented?
Inventors can do a preliminary search online, although knowing keywords is crucial for this. A patent agent can also help you with this process.
17How much does it cost to get a patent?
Fees vary depending on the type of patent application you submit. Fees may also vary according to the way you "claim" your invention. More information on filing fees and the number and type of claims.

There are three basic fees for utility patents:
  • The filing fee, which is non-refundable whether or not a patent is granted. (This is the cost to have your invention "examined" by the US Patent and Trademark Office - remember, you may or may not get a patent!).
  • The issue fee (you pay this only if your application is allowed).
  • Maintenance fees (paid at 3 1/2, 7 1/2, and 11 1/2 years after your patent is granted - these fees "maintain" your legal protection).

It's a good idea to check the current fee schedule, however.
18Do I need to hire a lawyer or agent?
The USPTO cannot aid in the preparation of patent application papers, and the process is complex. Only registered attorneys and patent agents can help others obtain patents. We strongly suggest that you contact us before you begin your patent application process, or at any time during the process to ensure that you have the best chance at being awarded a patent.