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What is a Patent?

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What is a Patent?

A patent is a set of legal rights that is granted to protect people’s inventions.  A patent grants the inventor the right to exclude other persons from using, making, or selling their invention without authorization.  These rights help to deter other parties from engaging in patent infringement

Patents can be obtained by filing an application with the USPTO (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office).  This is often a detailed procedure that requires the satisfaction of many different requirements.  Patents generally last for 20 years and can be used in various areas of industry and technology. 

What Can Be Patented?

Patents usually apply to inventions and related subjects.  This is in contrast to copyrights, which are applicable to works of art such as music, books, literature, etc.   There are different patents that can apply to different aspects of inventions.  These include:

  • Design patents: These protect non-functional aspects of an invention, such as a color scheme or aesthetic pattern.
  • Utility patents:  These encompass the practical, functional applications of the invention (such as mechanical functions).  They also cover improvements of an existing invention.
  • Plant patents:  These protect inventors of different plant species.  These must be new plants that aren’t already in existence.

Thus, patents cover a broad range of subject matter that relates to inventions.  They help protect the market economy by encouraging inventions while at the same time protecting inventors from unauthorized use or replication of the invention.

What Happens if a Patent is Violated?

Patent infringement is a serious offense and usually results in a civil lawsuit.  This is generally filed by the owner of the patent against a company or person that uses the patented invention without their permission.  A party that’s found to be liable for patent infringement may have to pay damages to the patent holder for any business losses that the violation might cause.

In addition, the liable party may need to forfeit any unauthorized items to local enforcement authorities.  Criminal charges can sometimes arise in very serious cases, especially those involving aspects related to white-collar crime.

What is a Patent Attorney?

A patent attorney or patent lawyer is a lawyer who is authorized to practice patent law.  A patent attorney must pass an exam called the “patent bar” in order to perform legal tasks related to patents.  These tasks may include filing for patents, protecting client’s patent rights, and filing a patent lawsuit.  Not all lawyers are patent lawyers.  Patent lawyers are sometimes referred to as “registered patent practitioners”.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With Patent Laws?

Patents are a very important way to protect inventions and designs.  In order to prevent your intellectual property from being misused, you may wish to hire a competent intellectual property lawyer or patent lawyer in your area.  Your attorney can help you with various patent law issues such as filing for a patent or filing a lawsuit for damages. 

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 01-11-2017 09:07 AM PST

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