What is a Patent?
A patent is a property right granted by the United States government only to the true inventor, excluding all others from making, using or selling the invention. A patent is granted for a specific term after which it enters public domain and may be freely used by anyone. Patents allow the holder exclusive right to make, use or sell the invention within the United States. In the United Stated, priority and defensive rights go first to the first true inventor who diligently reduces his invention to practice. This generally means the first to invent, AND quickly file for a patent will have preference over those that invent later, or those that delay an unreasonable time in the filing of their patent. The ability exist also to carry over this prior to many other countries.
Patents are granted for any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter. Although, in general, mathematical formulas are considered to be not patentable, recent changes have paved the way for patents protecting business methods and computer programs. Patents are not issued for perpetual motion machines, printed matter or mere "ideas", but rather on the tangible expression of those ideas.
A new use of a known process, machine, manufacture, composition of matter or material may be eligible for patent protection. However, a patent is NOT granted if the invention was sold or publicly known anywhere in the world for more than one year prior to filing for a patent. This is often referred to as the 1-Year Rule. It is important to note that filing a Disclosure Document Registration with the USPTO does not extend the 1-Year Rule of public disclosure to two years.
Some people confuse a Disclosure Document Registration with a type of protectable patent property. Contrary to this belief, the Disclosure Document is strictly a method provided by the Patent & Trademark Office to record the date of conception to preserve any priority rights. The filing requires the inventor to complete the invention, reduce it to practice and file an appropriate patent application within a diligent time period. It is not a 2-Year grace period. This filing may become vital for purposes of prosecution after the patent is filed, or litigation after the patent is issued. This is not a patent.
Does a Patent Make an Idea Valuable?
No. Although many people assume that a patented item will sell it self, it must be kept in mind that a patent is not a grant of a right to sell, or to lend value, to an invention. It is exclusively the right to exclude others from making, using, or selling. It provides ownership of intellectual property.
However, there are many ways to financially benefit from a patent, such as through sale, licensing, or assignment of rights. Whether your are an independent inventor or a business, a patent can be a valuable asset when used as a tool to aid in marketing the product, to protect the ownership in an invention, or to help identify the exact nature of any property that is being licensed, assigned, or sold.
Is International Patent Protection Available?
Patents are generally issued by individual countries or groups of countries for protection within those areas. There does exist, however, the Patent Cooperation Treaty, which lays out an agreed upon mechanism that allows the inventor in the United States to delay filing in individual countries for up to 30 months after the first U.S. Patent is filed. However, the first important deadline occurs exactly one year after filing for a U.S. Patent. Because of the complexity and expense, this option is not chosen as often. It would be advisable to discuss these options with your patent attorney approximately 9 months after filing a U.S. patent.
Even without international protection, your U.S. Patent will protect against the importation of an infringing product into the U.S., or the sale of your product made here overseas.