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Patents and Trademarks

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Don't Lose Your Intellectual Property -- Or Your Money!

Preserve the Confidentiality of Your Invention! Since an invention cannot be patented (except under some limited circumstances) if it is "described in a printed publication, or in public use, on sale, or otherwise available to the public," inventors should avoid these missteps by themselves or others prior to thoroughly investigating their intellectual property rights and possibly consulting with an IP attorney. (35 U.S.C. sec. 102)

Beware Patent & Trademark Scams! Unethical and dishonest individuals may solicit inventors for payments with a false or misleading promise of trademarks, patents, or promotions of a product. Read information about scam prevention from the USPTO and see examples of deceptive solicitations sent by non-USPTO entities

Intellectual Property Rights

Types of Intellectual Property

Different types of "intellectual property" are protected using different techniques. Consider the nature of the idea you're researching to decide which technique(s) are appropriate.

  • Trademark - a word, phrase, or symbol used to distinguish a seller's goods from those of others.
  • Trade Dress - the total image and overall appearance of a product, e.g. packaging, labeling, design, decor.
  • Trade Secret -  valuable business information not generally known or ascertainable by the general public which the business intends to keep confidential, e.g. recipe, formula, customer list.
  • Copyright - exclusive right of a creator of an original work of authorship to reproduce, adapt, distribute, perform, or display the work.
  • Patent - protection of inventor's exclusive rights to a novel, useful, nonobvious process or device.

There are three kinds of patents:

  • Utility patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof. Here is the process for obtaining a utility patent. 
  • Design patents may be granted to anyone who invents a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture. 
  • Plant patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plant.

Additional information at

More About Patents

What kinds of ideas can be patented?

According to federal law, patentable inventions include:

  • Process
  • Machine
  • Article of manufacture
  • Composition of matter
  • Improvement of any of the above

Note: In addition to utility patents, encompassing one of the categories above, patent protection is available for (1) ornamental design of an article of manufacture (Design Patent) or (2) asexually reproduced plant varieties

Some things which cannot be patented:

  • Laws of nature
  • Physical phenomena
  • Abstract ideas
  • Literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works (these can be Copyright protected). Go to the Copyright Office(link is external) .
  • Inventions which are:
    • Not useful (such as perpetual motion machines); or
    • Offensive to public morality

The invention must also be

  • Novel
  • Nonobvious
  • Adequately described or enabled (for one of ordinary skill in the art to make and use the invention)
  • Claimed by the inventor in clear and definite terms

What are patent rights?

A patent for an invention is the grant of a property right to the inventor. Patents are granted for newuseful and non-obvious inventions for a period of 20 years from the filing date of a patent application, and provide the right to exclude others from exploiting the invention during that period.  U.S. patents are issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

Generally, the term of a new patent is 20 years from the date on which the application for the patent was filed in the United States or, in special cases, from the date an earlier related application was filed, subject to the payment of maintenance fees.  The right conferred by the patent grant is "the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling" the invention in the United States or "importing" the invention into the United States for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted.

Patents are territorial, meaning that one must apply for patent protection in each country where protection is sought.  In other words, U.S. patent grants are effective only within the United States, U.S. territories, and U.S. possessions.

Help for Inventors from USPTO

The Inventors Assistance Center (IAC)  at the USPTO provides patent information and services to the public. The IAC is staffed by former Supervisory Patent Examiners and experienced Primary Examiners who answer general questions concerning patent examining policy and procedure.

IP for Non-English Speakers

Official United States Patent and Trademark Office records are published in English. Introductory video programs are available online in other languages as noted below. If you are not fluent in English, you may benefit from the assistance of a bilingual professional Patent Attorney or Patent Agent (see USPTO list of Registered Patent Attorneys and Agents).



Geographical Indication (GI) (Trademarks)


International Standards for Intellectual Property Enforcement

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