Patents FAQ

What is intellectual property?
Intellectual property rights control products of creative thought and include patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. Intellectual property law relating to e-commerce and the Internet is developing rapidly.
Why is intellectual property important?
Protecting innovation and maintaining competitive advantages is a must in today's economy. Equally important, and easily overlooked, is the necessity of respecting intellectual property of others.
How can a business manage intellectual property?
Someone in the business should be trained to recognize intellectual property issues and authorized to take action when issues arise. Prompt action can be essential to a successful result. The business should establish a relationship with an intellectual property lawyer.
What is a patent?
A patent gives the holder the right to exclude others from using inventions. United States and foreign patents are available. Patent applications must be filed within time limits, or else patent rights can be lost.
Why are there patents?
Inventions provide society with new solutions or new technologies to solve old problems or to improve the quality of life. An inventor is granted a patent as an incentive for making an invention public.
What kinds of inventions are patentable?
Almost anything. Any new, nonobvious and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter is patentable. Examples include business methods and computer related inventions.
How is a patent obtained?
The inventor files a patent application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The application includes a written description of the invention and usually includes drawings. The application is examined by a patent examiner who evaluates whether the invention is patentable.
What is "patent pending"?
"Patent pending" signifies that a patent has been applied for on an invention but that a patent has not yet been granted.
How long does a patent last?
A patent has a limited term and expires 20 years from the date of filing the patent application. After the patent expires, anyone is free to use the patented invention.
Who owns patent rights to employee inventions?
The employee may own the invention-even if made on company time and at company expense. The company may acquire ownership by purchase or if the employee was hired to make the invention. Many companies require new hires likely to make inventions to assign their inventions to the company as a condition of employment.
Can disclosure of an invention affect patent rights?
Yes. In the United States, a patent application must be filed no later than one year after the invention is placed on sale or in public use in this country or is disclosed in a publication anywhere. Almost all foreign countries do not have this one year grace period. To obtain a patent in these countries, the first patent application must be filed before disclosure of the invention.
Is a U.S. patent effective in other countries?
No, a U.S. patent is effective only in the United States. If patent protection is desired in other countries, a patent must be applied for in those countries.
Where can patent copies be obtained?
The United States Patent and Trademark Office ( has all United States Patents on-line. Many large metropolitan libraries have copies of patents available on microfilm.