Saturday, July 24, 2010

What Is a Patent, How Long It Last and How to Read a Patent

An overview of what a patent is, how long a patent lasts, briefly see how to read a patent.

What Is a Patent?

A patent is a grant issued to an inventor by the US government or the government of another country. Legally a patent is an offensive weapon. A patent gives you the right to stop others from using, making, or selling your invention in the country issuing the patent.

How Long Does A Patent Last?

Plant and Utility patents last 20 years from the date the patent was filed, and design patents last 14 years from the date it was issued. Utility and plant patents are guaranteed an in-force period of 17 years minimum. To compensate for delays resulting from a failure by the PTO (Patent and Trademark Office) to process the patent application in a timely fashion the patent can be extended if necessary.

If however, you fail to pay the maintenance fees when they are due, your patent will expire.

How to Read a Patent

The first element of a patent is the “specification” where the invention is described. Section 112 of the patent laws reads:

“The specification shall contain a written description of the invention, and of the manner and process of making and using it, in such full, clear, concise and exact terms a to enable any person skilled in the art to which it pertains, or with which it is most nearly connected, to make and use the same, and shall set forth the bet mode contemplated by the inventor of carrying out the invention.”

Reading the specification will give you a very good idea of what the invention is about, what it does, and how to build, make, or produce it.

The Claims

The claims define the structure or acts of the invention in a precise manner using exact terms in a logical manner. The claims tell the “scope” or “bounds” of the invention. In other words, the claims determine exactly what will infringe the patent. The claims must be specific enough to define the invention over any prior art.

There are independent claims which stand alone, and dependent claims which narrow the scope of the independent claim.

If you are tying to find out if your new invention idea infringes on the patent you are reading, then you would first read the specification to find out how your invention differs. Then you would read the claims, because the claims spell out exactly what will infringe the patent.

If a claim has three elements, x, y, and z, and your invention only has x, and y, but not z then you are not infringing. If your invention has x, y, z, and q, then you are still infringing. The PTO isn’t interested in whether your patent infringes another patent, so you could still be issued a patent, but it would infringe the first patent. The infringement issues would be between you and the other inventor.