USPatentOffice - What is a Patent?
A patent for an invention is a grant of property rights by the U.S. Government through
A utility or plant patent in force on June 8, 1995, is subject to either the 17 year term from grant or the 20 year term from earliest effective U.S. filing date, whichever is longer. A design patent term is 14 years from patent grant. The right conferred by the patent grant extends throughout the United States. The terms "Patent Pending" and "Patent Applied For" are used to inform the public that an application for a patent has been filed. Patent protection does not start until the actual grant of a patent. Marking of an article as patented, when it is not, is illegal and subject to penalty.
A patent cannot be obtained on a mere idea or suggestion. Patent applications are examined for both technical and legal merit. Prior to filing a patent application, a search of existing patents can be conducted at the USPTO Patent Search Room or at a Patent and Trademark Depository Library in your area.
The term patent usually refers to a right granted to anyone who invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof. The additional qualification utility patents is used in countries such as the United States to distinguish them from other types of patents but should not be confused with utility models granted by other countries. Examples of particular species of patents for inventions include biological patents, business method patents, chemical patents and software patents.
Some other types of intellectual property rights are referred to as patents in some jurisdictions: industrial design rights are called design patents in some jurisdictions (they protect the visual design of objects that are not purely utilitarian), plant breeders' rights are sometimes called plant patents, and utility models or Gebrauchsmuster are sometimes called petty patents or innovation patents. This article relates primarily to the patent for an invention, although so-called petty patents and utility models may also be granted for inventions.
Certain grants made by the monarch in pursuance of the royal prerogative were sometimes called letters patent, which was a government notice to the public of a grant of an exclusive right to ownership and possession. These were often grants of a patent-like monopoly and predate the modern British origins of the patent system. For other uses of the term patent see Land patents, which were land grants by early state governments in the USA. This reflects the original meaning of letters patent that had a broader scope than current usage.