A Patent gives the inventor the right to exclude others from making, using, or selling the invention within the U.S., its territories and possessions. A patent can be obtained on any “new, useful process, machine, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof.” The rights to a U.S. patent are granted for a term of 20 years from the filing date (15 years from the issue date for design patents). After the term expires, you no longer retain the exclusive right to the invention and it enters the public domain.

The three criteria for patentability are utility, novelty, and non-obviousness. Utility means that your invention must be useful (i.e. it must do something non-frivolous and must work according to its stated purpose). Novelty means that your invention is new or that you are the first and original inventor. There are three factors that you may need to think about to determine the novelty of your invention: (1) other individuals must not have known about the invention and it must not have been placed in public use in the United States before you invented it; (2) others must not have already patented or described the invention in a printed publication anywhere in the world more than one year before the filing of your application; and, (3) your invention must be non-obvious. In other words, your invention must not be obvious to a person with ordinary skill in field of technology of the particular invention.

Design Patent vs. Utility Patent
A design patent protects the configuration or shape of an invention and is specifically created to protect ornamental features. The life of a design patent is 15 years and it costs considerably less than a utility patent. Ordinarily, when people discuss patents they are referring to utility patents. A utility patent is used for the protection of a process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter. The life of a utility patent begins upon grant of the patent and ends 20 years from the filing date of the application. The Patent and Trademark Office requires that the owner of a patent pay “Maintenance Fees,” which are due at 3 ½, 7½, and 11 ½ years in the life of a patent for utility patents to keep the patent from expiring. You can ask George Williamson to explain which patent is right for you.

Provisional Patent Application.
A provisional application is a patent application designed to be a simpler and less expensive application, but, which will not be examined except for certain formal requirements. The provisional application provides a method by which applicants can quickly establish an early effective filing date in a patent application and gives an inventor up to 12 months to further develop an invention, determine marketability, acquire funding or capital, seek licensing, etc. before filing a full application. A provisional application can never mature into a patent, so a full application must be filed within 12 months of the provisional filing date to preserve the original filing date. You can ask George Williamson discuss provisional applications with you to see if such an application is right for your needs.

Beware of Invention Development Companies.
There are many fraudulent “invention development” companies in the market. These companies advertise widely in phone books, magazines, and television. Each year thousands of victimized inventors report their dissatisfaction with many of these companies who charge up-front fees and promise results that are not realistic. Many legitimate manufacturers or potential licensees give no credibility to many of these companies. Be wary of companies that charge up-front “marketing fees” to help promote your invention. Very few, if any, inventors ever make any money by dealing with these type companies. George Williamson offers honest and straight forward advice to inventors in placing, marketing, and licensing their inventions. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office provides a Form (PTO/SB/2048A) to complain about an invention promoter. Also, the American Inventor’s Protection Act of 1999 grants inventors certain rights regarding fraudulent invention promotion companies including the right to bring civil lawsuits against them under certain circumstances.

Disclosing/Marketing Invention Without A Patent.
Confidentiality (secrecy) is an inventor’s best friend and Confidentiality Agreements are recommended for all disclosures of your invention. Pre-patent disclosures are risky because no patent protection is available until a patent is issued by the Patent Office. Because we have a first-to-file system, it is very important to keep your invention secret. If a disclosure has been made, you probably need to file a patent application promptly. Any public disclosure, publication, or offer for sale of your invention more than one year before a patent application is filed will prevent the issuance of a patent. Also, any sale of the invention, publication, or disclosure of the invention before a United States patent application is filed will destroy the possibility of obtaining foreign patent protection in most foreign countries.