This is a continuation of our four part discussion of intellectual property.

Last month, our newsletter discussed trademark protections for words, symbols, phrases, or other identifiers of a product or brand. Trademarks exist to protect the goodwill and brand recognition that are associated with a particular company or good, and are commonly affixed to a company’s goods and marketin

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) registers both trademarks and patents. Patents, unlike both copyrights and trademarks, are intended to protect inventions and discoveries.  In order to bring an invention or discovery to fruition, a person or company must generally invest a significant amount of time, energy, and resources into the research and development of the invention or discovery. Obtaining a patent for the invention or discovery helps to ensure that the person or company who put the time, energy, and resources into the creation of the invention or discovery is actually able to reap the rewards associated therewith.  A patent provides a person or company with the exclusive right to make, use, or sell the invention (at least for a certain amount of time) before others can make the same or similar products.

There are three types of patents: utility patents, design patents, and plant patents.  First, and most common, is the utility patent.  This type of patent is available for new and useful processes, machines, manufacturing methods, compositions, or improvements. A design patent is available to protect a new design for a manufactured item.  Finally, as the name indicates, a plant patent is available to protect a newly invented or discovered type of plant.

Obtaining a patent can be difficult, time consuming, and expensive, as the applicant must show the invention is new, useful, and nonobvious, and must comply with various statutory requirements.  To prove an invention is new or novel, the invention: (1) must not be similar to another product or process and the public must not have previously known of the invention; (2) cannot have been described in a publication more than one year before the filing date; and (3) must not have been used or publicly sold more than one year before the filing date.  These requirements impose a fairly strict one year deadline to file a patent application, starting at the time the invention is first disclosed to the public.  Next, the invention must have a useful purpose and be operable.  Finally, an invention must be nonobvious.  To be nonobvious, an invention which is an improvement must not have been obvious to a person who had ordinary skill with the technology used in the invention.

Patents are a highly complex type of intellectual property which usually require a very specialized review.  Companies seeking patent protection are well-served to hire competent and experienced patent counsel to help navigate the process.  Although Navigato & Battin does not prosecute patents, it has a network of experienced patent counsel it can recommend.  If you have created a product you think may be eligible for patenting, call the attorneys at Navigato & Battin so that we can help determine if patent protection is something you should explore.