Patent ImageSo you’ve got a great idea for a new product that’s going to change the world.

But as anyone who has ever not gotten credit for a great idea can attest, having your name attached to your innovation is the best way to ensure you reap the benefits of its implementation. Fortunately, for inventors in the United States and its territories, the patent process provides a means of protecting intellectual property from the consequences of theft or misuse—also known as “infringement”.

A patent grants an inventor the exclusive right to his or her invention for 20 years. This means others may not use it without the holder’s permission, lest they be subject to severe penalties. Given that receiving a patent grants considerable benefits to the inventor, however, the process of obtaining one is not especially easy. Here’s how it works:

The application process

The patent application, which is filed through the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), is a complex document in which the particulars of the invention are provided in great detail. Given the difficult nature of the information that must be conveyed in the patent application, along with the complexity of the document itself, having a patent application prepared or inspected by an experienced intellectual property attorney is a step no inventor should skip to ensure the accuracy of the application.

A key distinction worth noting is that many inventions are modifications of existing technology. This is why, in the patent application, you must clearly identify the new technology you’ve created and are hoping to protect with the patent.

Once the application has been submitted, a patent examiner who has expertise in the relevant field reviews it. The examiner’s job is to determine whether the invention already exists and whether it’s already protected through a patent and, if not, whether the technology has already been publicly disclosed. If the examiner sees a problem with the application, the inventor has several options for responding, including fixing any problems, making the case that the application is already sufficient and appealing the judgment of the examiner. Again, handling these situations is made easier by working with a knowledgeable intellectual property lawyer.

Limitations and problems

A patent issued by the USPTO is only valid in the United States and its territories. However, inventors may apply for patents in other countries as well, and also have the ability to prevent the import of products from overseas that would violate the patent in the United States if they were made here.

Inventors should also be aware that publicly disclosing their inventions prior to securing a patent is an extremely risky move. Although the USPTO provides a one-year grace period during which an inventor may file for a patent, many do not find the risk worthwhile.

Entrepreneurs and innovators who have questions about the patent application process or are wondering about the benefits of protecting their inventions through patenting should consult a knowledgeable intellectual property attorney for further guidance.

BoltNagi is an established and widely respected intellectual property law firm serving businesses and organizations throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands.