Not everyone will be an inventor. Few will make landmark discoveries or think up the next technological advancement in society like the TV. However, in our current internet age we are constantly consuming and creating information, images and ideas. Because we all take part in this process, a basic understanding of patent law and intellectual property might help you be a better informed consumer and maybe even inventor.
To help better understand a patent and its a role in the innovative process, here are 5 things to you should know.
1. Patents are only part of intellectual protections.
Patents fall under the large umbrella called intellectual property, which grants exclusive property rights to the inventor by the government. Other basic forms of intellectual property include trademark and copyright. Patent is the broadest form of intellectual property protection because it not only protects the specific invention, but overall concept.
2. There are three types of patents.
The U.S. Patent office offers utility patents, design patents and plant patents. Utility patents protect functional attributes of an invention, while design patents protect aesthetic aspects of an invention and plant patents are limited to inventions or discoveries related to new asexually reproduced varieties of plant. Each of these patents differ in what they cover, but the process to apply and penalty for breaking them are similar.
3. You can’t patent everything.
You cannot patent an idea, only an invention, design or method. However, increasingly, patents are being applied to more abstract concepts like business software and program algorithms. These patents have been the source of a lot of legal scrutiny and many expert witnesses have been called in to determine precedence. It is relatively easy and cheap to obtain a patent by yourself, but many experts suggest getting a patent lawyer to make sure you do it right.
4. Patents are rights given through Congress.
The process of issuing a patent is done by the United States Patent and Trademark Office under the direction of congress. Interestingly, the first patent granted in the US took place in the 17th century. Samuel Winslow was given an exclusive right for 10 years to process salt using a new process by the Massachusetts General Court. Patents are upheld internationally by treaties signed by most nations at the World Intellectual Property Organization.
5. It’s effectively government granted Monopoly.
Basically a patent represents permission from the government to own a monopoly on the invention. This patent gives the inventor 20 years to manufacture, sell and develop the product or service. Interesting fact: Abraham Lincoln was the only president to ever own a patent.
Even if you are not interested in filling for a patent yourself, understanding the basics about patents and how it relates to technology makes us all better contributors to society both on and offline.