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Patents - How They Work
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I once spoke with a friend of mine who claimed to have an idea that would prevent people from losing or misplacing the remote control for a television set – a kind of locator or pager. When I asked my friend to tell me more he refused. I asked why? His reply to me was that he wanted to keep the information safe and confidential until he had the money to pursue it. I then asked if he’s filed for patent protection. He explained that he didn’t understand the process and later found a similar remote control locator on the market and gave up on his idea thinking someone had found out what he was doing and stole the idea from him. He now has two other new ideas that he feels can make him lots of money and is looking into patent protection – which is what this article is all about.

Patents are easy to understand. There are two main patent filing categories; provisional and non-provisional patent filings. Keep in mind that the process of filing a patent application, in itself, is not patent protection. When you hear “provisional patent”, it does not mean you actually have a patent. It only means that you have filed the patent application.

The non-provisional patent, on the other hand, if allowed by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), will lead to either a Design patent or Utility patent. These are the 2 most common types of patents which are issued by USPTO. The Design patent is issued for 14 years and the Utility patent is issued for 20 years. The process for filing is fairly quick whether you are doing it yourself or using the services of a registered patent practitioner.

It is important to understand that although you can file a patent on your own, a registered patent practitioner specializes in writing the claims (abstract) and drafting a sketch (patent drawing) in such a way that complies with patent office specifications. When finished, the registered attorney or agent can then submit a “strong” patent application that will hold up in court if someone else’s product design is deemed similar to your product design. Simply stated, the patent protects you against infringement by giving you the right to “exclude all others” from selling your design in the country in which the protection is established – in this example, protection is granted in the United States.

Once the patent application has been filed the USPTO issues a “filing receipt” stating your application number and filing category. Whoever filed the application would be deemed the Correspondent Agent and be responsible for maintaining communication with the patent examiner during the process. A provisional patent application must be converted into a non-provisional application within one year of the filing date stated on the receipt. If not, the patent application expires and you lose your priority filing date. In the US, the new patent reform act, known as the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act of 2011, converted the US patent system into a “first to file” prioritized system.

The prosecution period for a non-provisional Design or Utility patent can last between six months to as long as three years depending on the size and complexity of the application that must be reviewed by the USPTO patent examiner. Design patent are prosecuted faster that Utility patents. An inventor can also pay an additional fee for Track 1 Prioritized Filing which speeds up the patent process to issuance. When issued, the inventor is mailed a Notice of Allowance that announces to the inventor that the patent has been awarded. Afterwards a Notice of Issuance is mailed stating the date which the patent certificate, or Ribbon Copy will be mailed to the inventor or patent practitioner. This is an exciting time because the inventor has now been granted a patent for the new invention.

Finally, an inventor needs to be prepared to handle any complications that may occur. These complications are referred to as “actions” which require a response back to the patent examiner. This is where the right professional patent consultant or registered patent practitioner such as an attorney or agent can be of greatest benefit. If these actions are not handled in a timely manner it can lead to expiration dates being triggered and rights and money lost. There are many industry experts who can guide you such as patent attorneys who offer free consultation, graphic designers and evaluation consultants who can provide professional assistance objectively and make sure your heading in the right direction. Speaking with the right people who can review your invention information objectively is the first thing you should do. It is important that you find professional companies that will explain the patent process to you. Make sure that you understand patents and how to protect your idea first.


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