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What is an Invention?

In intellectual property law, an invention is defined as a new composition, device, or process. The term may also refer to improvements to already existing inventions. Inventions involving new, useful, and nonobvious processes, machines, manufacturers, and compositions of matters can be patented according to United States patent laws. Throughout the years, case law has defined what constitutes an invention, even though the legal definition of "invention" has not been defined explicitly under the US Patent Act.

Key Takeaways

  • According to intellectual property law in the United States, an invention is a new, useful and nonobvious process, machine, manufacture or composition of matter.
  • Patents can be granted for inventions that meet the criteria according to the law.
  • One may apply for a patent within one year of a public disclosure of the invention.

Protecting an Invention With a Patent

In the United States, patents are used to protect the rights of an invention. In exchange for complete disclosure of the invention, a patent provides the inventor with exclusive rights to use the composition, device or process. There are three main types of patents: utility patents, design patents and plant patents.

Patents are issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). A patent application must be filed within one year of the date the invention was publicly disclosed. Starting from the date the application is filed, patents remain valid for 20 years. This date, known as the actual filing date, is an essential component of a patent application. US patents operate on a “first to file” basis, so whoever applies for the patent first typically owns the rights to the invention. When you own a patent, no one else can make, use, distribute, import or sell your invention without your consent. If a patent is infringed upon, legal action can be taken and damages can be awarded to the patent owner.

Patent Requirements for an Invention

In order to be issued a patent by the USPTO, an invention must fulfill several criteria. Here are a few important patent requirements:

  • Patentable Subject Matter: this term, often referred to as a statutory requirement, relates to the question of whether the invention contains patentable subject matter. Processes, machines, manufactured articles and compositions of matter are considered patentable.
  • Novelty: In order for an invention to be patentable, it must be a new invention. This means that the public disclosure of the invention occurred no more than one year before the actual filing date. Failure to apply for a patent within the first year of disclosure can result in a rejection of the application.
  • Utility: Typically, a patent can only be granted for an invention that is useful. The USPTO examiner must determine that the invention has practical utility, operability and beneficial utility before issuing a patent.
  • Non-Obvious: Patents will not be granted to inventions that would be considered obvious to someone with ordinary skill in the field. To determine whether an invention will be deemed non-obvious, inventors should conduct thorough patent research.

Bottom Line

Have you created a one-of-a-kind invention? Make sure it gets the protection it deserves by filing for a patent with the USPTO. If you have any more questions about inventions and patents, or if you need assistance in filing your patent application, reach out to one of our expert intellectual property attorneys.

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