What is a Patent? A patent for an invention is the grant of a property right to the inventor, issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). 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. U.S. patent grants are effective only within the United States, U.S. territories, and U.S. possessions.
The patent grant provides the inventor(s) the right to exclude others from making, using, selling, offering for sale of the invention in the United States and/or importing the invention into the United States. There are three types of patents: 1) 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; 2) Design patents may be granted to anyone who invents a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture; and 3) Plant patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plant.
What Is a Trademark or Servicemark? A trademark is a word, name, symbol, or device that is used in trade with goods to indicate the source of the goods and to distinguish them from the goods of others. A servicemark is the same as a trademark except that it identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than a product. The terms “trademark” and “mark” are commonly used to refer to both trademarks and servicemarks. Trademark rights may be used to prevent others from using a confusingly similar mark, but not to prevent others from making the same goods or from selling the same goods or services under a clearly different mark. Trademarks which are used in interstate or foreign commerce may be registered with the USPTO.
What Is a Copyright? Copyright is a form of protection provided to the authors of “original works of authorship” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works, both published and unpublished. The 1976 Copyright Act generally gives the owner of copyright the exclusive right to reproduce the copyrighted work, to prepare derivative works, to distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work, to perform the copyrighted work publicly, or to display the copyrighted work publicly. The copyright protects the form of expression rather than the subject matter of the writing. For example, a description of a machine could be copyrighted, but this would only prevent others from copying the description; it would not prevent others from writing a description of their own or from making and using the machine. Copyrights are registered by the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress.
What Can Be Patented? The patent law specifies the general field of subject matter that can be patented and the conditions under which a patent may be obtained. Any person who “invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent,” subject to the conditions and requirements of the law. The Atomic Energy Act of 1954 excludes the patenting of inventions useful solely in utilization of special nuclear material or atomic energy in an atomic weapon 42 U.S.C. 2181 (a). The patent law specifies that the subject matter must be “useful.” The term “useful” in this connection refers to the condition that the subject matter has a useful purpose. Useful also means that the invention is operative. For example, a machine which will not operate to perform the intended purpose would not be called useful, and therefore would not be granted a patent. Some things are not patentable under the US Patent Laws, e.g., laws of nature, physical phenomena, and abstract ideas.
CREDITS: This information is from the US Patent and Trademark Office www.uspto.gov