A patent is a right granted by the government on the creator of an invention to make, use, and sell the invention for a set period of time. In the U.S., an inventor has one year from the invention's first public use or sale to apply for a patent with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. A patent issued by the PTO is good only in the U.S., although treaties exist with other countries that allow the inventor to file for a patent in other countries.
Once granted, a patent forbids others from making, using, offering to sell, or selling the invention. The protection extends to knockoffs, and it applies to attempts to export the invention to other countries.
There are three different types of patents:
1. Utility patents apply to processes and machines or to improvements in them. Generally, these patents apply for 20 years from the date of filing for the patent.
2. Design patents apply to original ornamental designs for something involved in manufacturing.
Generally, these patents apply for 14 years from the filing date. 3. Plant patents apply to inventions involving new plant varieties that are asexually reproduced.
Generally, these patents apply for 20 years from the filing date. For sexually reproduced new varieties, a separate law protects them for 20 years, although trees, shrubs, and vines are protected for 25 years.
Patent law is highly complex. Anyone interested in obtaining a patent should consult a patent lawyer to insure that the application is handled properly.