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A patent is a property right granted by the federal government that allows the owner to exclude others from making, using or selling the patented invention for the life of the patent. Patents are authorized by the U.S. Constitution and have a life of 20 years from patent filing.
An invention must meet three criteria in order to be patentable:
- The invention must be novel (not already invented)
- The invention must be useful (referred to as utility)
- The invention must not be obvious
There are three types of patents that protect many types of inventions:
- Utility (most university inventions are subject to protection by utility patents)
UK only pursues domestic patents, which have a lifespan of 20 years from filing. An international patent will be pursued if a licensee agrees to cover the patent expenses (see the Patent Cooperation Treaty in the International Protection section of the U.S. Patent & Trade Office Web site).
Understanding the patent process
The patentability opinion is prepared by outside patent counsel knowledgeable about your research area. The opinion is based on a prior art search. The patentability opinion is the patent attorney's expert opinion of whether or not the innovation is patentable and the scope of coverage likely to be available in light of the prior art search.
The provisional patent holds an invention's "place in line" for one year while a regular patent is pursued. Provisional patents are typically filed when a publication is pending or a potential licensee needs time to do a commercial market assessment.
The patent application contains a detailed description of the background information and "prior art" as well as a complete description of the new invention and how the invention overcomes any problems and disadvantages considered to exist in the prior art. The application contains a number of "claims" that define the scope of the invention.
As the inventor, you will work closely with the outside patent attorney through the Intellectual Property Development Office to fully describe the invention. Failure to describe the invention fully may cause the application to be rejected or may result in issuance of a patent whose claims fail to provide necessary protection for the invention.
It is important to understand that the patent prosecution process is adversarial in nature and the majority of patent applications are initially rejected. A patent examiner from the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office will examine all claims in the patent application. Written responses are generally necessary to respond fully to positions taken by the examiner. As the inventor, your time and assistance is critical in the preparation of each response.