Patent Facts

Patent FAQs

What is a patent?

A patent is a document that grants property rights to the patent holder. It does not give the owner the right to manufacture or sell their invention. Rather, it provides them with the power to prevent others from manufacturing, selling, importing or otherwise unlawfully profiting from their invention.

How long does a patent last?

Any patent application filed on or after June 8, 1995 expires after 20 years. The patent comes into force on the day it is issued and lasts until 20 years from the date of filing of the application. For the patent to remain valid for the entire term it's necessary to pay maintenance fees.

How long does it take to process a patent application?

The United States Patent and Trademark Office employs patent examiners who review each patent application. This process can take considerable time. Currently, the USPTO estimates that application review requires 24.6 months.

How do I know if my invention is already patented?

The website of the USPTO provides the public with a sophisticated search interface. It is free to use, but most people have difficulty finding the correct search terms. The best way to find out if your invention has already been patented is to have your patent attorney perform a search. This by no means guarantees anything, but it does give you a better idea about whether or not to proceed with filing an application.

Does a U.S. patent only cover America?

Yes. Patents granted by the USPTO are enforceable only within U.S. borders. Foreign patent protection is available in most other countries. There are rules and time limits for obtaining foreign patent rights. Contact the Law Office of Jeff Williams to learn more about foreign patent protection.

What kinds of inventions can be protected?

U.S. patent law ultimately governs what can and cannot be patented in America. The statute specifies that any individual or entity may be entitled to a patent if they invent or discover "any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof ..." Under the law, a "process" refers to a method of completing a task while "machine" refers to an invented apparatus. "Manufacture" is related in that it encompasses produced goods. "Composition of matter" is generally understood to relate to chemical compositions. 

The law also states that the invention must be useful. Generally, this means that the item can be employed in a helpful manner, such as to solve a problem. The problem solved or the purpose of the invention does not have to be momentous. In fact, the subject matter can be fairly trivial. 

An idea cannot be patented. A patent is only granted on an invention that is fully described in minute detail. 

What is a utility patent?

A utility patent is granted on a wide variety of items such as those described in the categories above. Utility patents are suitable for computer software, prescription medicines, improvements to table saws, methods for treating sewage or innovative toys for toddlers, to name a few.

What is a design patent?

Design patents cover the invention of an ornamental design for a manufactured item. They have a term of 14 years and do not require maintenance fees. To determine whether your invention should be protected by a utility or design patent, contact the Law Office of Jeff Williams.

What is a plant patent?

Plant patents are granted to inventors who create or asexually reproduce a new kind of plant. These patents are not granted on uncultivated plants that are simply discovered.

How do I enforce a patent?

If you suspect that someone is infringing your patent rights, then you need legal advice. A patent grants the owner the right to prevent other people from using their invention. Thus, you are entitled to sue the infringer. A lawsuit isn't usually the first step since it is costly and time-consuming. Depending upon the situation, your attorney may write to the infringing party to make them aware of your rights and to demand that they stop infringing your patent. The Law Office of Jeff Williams can assist you if you believe your patent rights are being infringed.

What does it mean to license a patent? Why would someone grant a patent license?

The patent owner doesn't always have the means to manufacture and sell their invention. Sometimes it makes a great deal of sense for the owner to license their invention to a person or entity who has such means available. Accordingly, a license is a written agreement that allows that other person or entity to "exploit" the subject matter of the patent. The patent owner receives royalties from the manufacturer as compensation. A patent lawyer can draft a licensing agreement that is fair and beneficial to all parties.


Have a question that is not answered on this list? Contact us and let us know how we can help.

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