In June 2018, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issued its 10 millionth patent. Those millions of patents protect the ideas and creations of inventors, usually in business-related situations. With this much commerce at stake, it’s vital that companies know how to protect their inventions through the patent process.
How to Qualify for a Patent
Under U.S. patent laws, anyone who discovers a process, machine or composition of objects may apply for a patent, but there are limitations. FindLaw wrote on its site that, for an invention to qualify for a valid patent claim, inventions must show how they are “novel, useful and non-obvious.” Since these standards are sometimes subjective and confusing, the USPTO has developed criteria to define these terms.
- Novel: Inventions are novel if they are unlike other comparable inventions in one or more of its components. A novel invention can also not have been operated, sold or patented by other companies within the year that the newer patent application was received.
- Useful: Useful means the invention will fulfill a useful purpose. If a skilled person familiar with the invention’s related industry could appreciate the invention’s usefulness, then the patent claim qualifies. The patent applicant only needs one credible source to substantiate their claim of usefulness.
- Non-obvious: Non-obvious refers to those inventions that are considered sufficiently different from what has been described or used before by a skilled person familiar with the relevant industry.
6 Types of Patents
The USPTO issues six types of patents involving different subject matters with varying levels of protection.
- Design Patents: Design patents are published for new, original ornamental designs incorporated into an object. Design patent protection periods last for fifteen years from the approval of the patent and cover everything from computer fonts to designs on automobiles.
- Plant Patents: Plant patents are published for new or distinct reproduced plants. Plant patents can apply to seedlings, propagated plants or hybrids, and they last up to 20 years.
- Utility Patents: Utility patents are issued for machines, processes or improvements to machines or processes. Utility patents also last up to 20 years.
- Defensive Publication (DEF): Defensive publications are public disclosures on the details of a plant, invention or design that a company might want to patent further down the road. Sometimes, innovative companies will publish regular blogs or technical bulletins covering the details of their products to establish their precedence.
- Reissue Patent: A reissue patent can be approved to correct substantial errors in any existing patent. Reissue patents won’t change the terms of the original patent, and only patent holders can file reissue applications. Patent holders may also request a reissue patent within two years of the first patent being granted if they want to extend the scope of their process or invention.
- Statutory Invention Registration (SIR): An SIR is a process that allows a business to place their creations in the public domain to stop others from acquiring patents for them. These registrations are not regularly reviewed by the USPTO. SIRs are still enforced but are no longer issued since the passage of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA) by Congress in 2013.
Legal Alternatives for Patents
Since patent protection usually requires experienced attorneys to prepare them and high fees to file them, most entrepreneurs will forgo the patent process for a less costly alternative. Some of these alternatives include:
- Non-disclosure Contract: In a non-disclosure agreement, one or more individuals agree to not reveal confidential information.
- Non-compete Contracts: A non-compete contract is an agreement between an employer and an employee where both parties agree to not become competitors in business.
- Work for Hire Contracts: In work for hire contracts, employers and employees mutually agree that any creative work produced by the employee becomes the property of the employer.
These are just some of the alternatives to patents that a business could use to protect its intellectual property. To learn more about patents, alternatives to patents and other topics in business, consider earning an online Bachelors in Business Administration. These programs will teach you how to communicate effectively, solve problems, be creative and demonstrate ethical leadership. The online BBA from Emmanuel College is taught by faculty members who are experts in their fields, and our online business administration degree program offers a flexible format through its integrated learning platform. Ready to advance your career even further? Our online MBA is offered in a flexible, accelerated format so you can study whenever and wherever it’s most convenient for you.