In 1790, the first U.S. patent law was enacted. Since that time, there have been a significant number of patents which have been applied for and issued. In 2016 alone, for example, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issued 303,051 patents. In addition to patents, there are other ways that intellectual property can be protected. These are copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets. This article, however, will provide a brief overview of patents.
When an individual, team, or another enterprise applies for an invention patent, for example, it needs to meet specific criteria in order to be awarded. These criteria include usefulness, novelty, and non-obviousness. According to the USPTO, there are three different types of patents:
- Utility patents
- Design patents
- Plant patents
Utility patents are issued more regularly than any other types of patents. The USPTO reported that approximately 90% of the documents that they receive are for this type of intellectual property. These patent applications include, but are not limited to, patents for different types of technological devices. It’s interesting to note that patent applications for digital communication and computer technology were quite prevalent during 2016. On an international basis, these were the top two application categories.
An example of a design patent would include unique packaging. This may come in the form of a new size and shape of water or soda bottle. It could also include packaging for pharmaceuticals, household products, and other items.
Plant patents are applied for and issued when a new variety of plant has been invented, discovered, or asexually reproduced. The USPTO also indicates that this plant has to be distinct and is something “other than a tuber propagated plant or a plant found in an uncultivated state.”
Each type of patent is effective for a certain period of time. If a utility or plant patent was issued after June 8, 1995, for instance, it will expire 20 years from the initial application date. Design patents, however, are protected for 14 years following the date of initial application.
If you and/or your team are planning to apply for a patent or one of the other types of intellectual property protections listed above, it’s important to work closely with attorneys that are experienced in intellectual property practices. An attorney versed in intellectual property practices will be able to assist you with completing and filing your documents and advise you on other integral aspects of this process. Once you schedule a consultation with an attorney, they will also provide you with more information on the nuances of protecting your intellectual property.
Furthermore, since intellectual property infringement does occur, in the event that another individual, company, or enterprise attempts to infringe on your intellectual property rights, attorneys with intellectual property practices will be determine the best course of action. To provide you with an example, 4,537 patent infringement suits were filed during 2016, according to Lex Machina, a legal analytics firm. If it is determined that you have a strong intellectual property infringement case, your attorney will advise and represent you throughout this process.