Patents 101: Protecting and Driving Innovation

The human race has come a long way since the beginning of history. The development and growth of civilizations resulted largely from advancements in technology and science. Determined inventors and brilliant minds worked daily searching for answers and methods in making life for everyone easier. The evolution of humanity can be attributed to the independent inventions born of the minds of persistent individuals. The writers of the Constitution understood the importance of originality and the creation of scientific ventures. In order to protect new inventions and promote progress, the US Constitution allows Congress to grant patents. Patents are the proprietary rights which establish a “limited” monopoly to inventors and exclude others from “making, using, offering for sale, or selling the patented invention…” in the U.S. (See the U.S. Code here). Consequently, the power to grant patent rights comes with a list of limitations which regulate what can be patented and how long various types of patents last.

What can be patented?

A popular matter involving patents is question of what can be considered a patentable invention. On a broad scale, patents protect inventions, discoveries, and concepts. Within these categories, the patentable invention can be any of the following: an apparatus (something that contains moving parts); an article of manufacture (something with no moving parts); a compound (a chemical composition); a process or a method (series of steps in a method or process); and an improvement of previous patented inventions. Judicial decisions have declared certain exceptions to the issue of patent eligibility which are: laws of nature, abstract ideas, natural phenomena, and mathematical algorithms and formulas.

Certain guidelines and requirements control and limit what can be patented. The Constitution states that Congress can award a patent if and only if an invention exists and if it is “new, useful, and the embodiment of a scientific advance.” The first two requirements are self-explanatory. As long as the invention in question is new and did not exist before its creation, it satisfies part of the guidelines. The embodiment of scientific advancement, also known as the non-obviousness requirement, involves the fact that at the time of the invention’s discovery, it must have been “non-obvious” to a person who is skilled and well versed in the field of technology the invention was made in.

What must be filed with a patent?

Inventors must publicly disclose within the patent a detailed description of the invention which would enable others to experiment and practice the patent. This would ensure that those skilled in the art would be capable of reproducing and practicing the invention. The America Invents Act, the latest major reform in patent law since 1952, clarifies the publication requirements by stating a person is entitled to a patent if it is not already patented, in public use, on sale, or available to the public, and described in a patent or in a patent application filed prior to the date of filing.

How long does patent protection last?

As a result of this promise to publicly disclose the patent, they also have a term of exclusive use once they are granted. The time of protection is dependent on which of the three categories the patent falls under. Utility patents, which cover the functionality of new useful processes, are released after 20 years from filing. Design patents, which protect the ornamental designs of new useful objects, are given up 15 years after the rights were granted. Finally, plant patents for new varieties of living plants are terminated after a term of 20 years once filed.

What is the process for applying for a patent?

It is critical that any potential inventor who has an invention that satisfies the requirements should be quick in filing for a patent with the United States Patent Office. This includes preparing a large amount of records and documents proving ownership and a painstaking process of detailed analysis to determine whether the invention is eligible to receive a patent or not.

What are the benefits of a patent?

For one, it gives inventors recognition for their accomplishment and their contribution to the overall progress of science. Secondly, they gain all the exclusive rights as creator which include the making and selling of the invention, etc. This lays the groundwork for the nature of patents. Patents are, as previously mentioned, a form of limited monopoly. Whether it’s an individual or a large corporation with inventor employees, inventors can take advantage of these rights and ultimately be the only ones in the market that financially profit from the invention during the exclusive patent protection term.

This system protects originality and new ideas. It prevents inventors who spent months of work and tremendous amounts of money from getting ripped off by copycats who barely invested any resources and can sell at a lower price. This could eventually kick out the actual inventor from the market, and would result in a discouraging market where no one would want to give away any of their ideas for fear of intellectual piracy. Innovation would dwindle down to nothing and progress would remain stagnant.


The patent system is one that helps scientific advancement flourish in the United States. Tireless inventors who work day and night attempt to reach their endeavors in creating something new and ground breaking so that they too can take advantage of their temporary monopoly and reap the benefits and rewards from the exclusive rights gained. In return, they agree to publically release their patented invention back into the public domain. Inspired inventors can then pick up where they left off and create future improvements, repeating the cycle of ingenious innovation.

If you are an inventor and would like to discuss patent protection for your invention, please contact the Law Office of Mark Smith, PLLC here.