The Purpose of a Patent and Patent Searches

Patent Law ~ Patent BasicsContinuing with our Patent 101 series, today we look at the Purpose of a Patent and Patent searches.

What is a Patent?

Patents are rewards granted to inventors by the government for coming up with a new and useful invention.  The reward typically gives a limited right to control who uses, sells or makes the patented invention in exchange for their disclosure of how the make and use the invention.   A patent is so important to the development and progress of society that most countries provide a patent system in some form or another.  Patent systems encourage development and technological advances by rewarding those who contribute to these advancements.

Obtaining a Patent

In order to obtain a patent, one must submit to the patent office an application which describes for others not only how to make and use the invention but also the best way to carry out the invention.  This description becomes part of public record or public domain, which is available to everyone in order to learn how the invention works.

When a Patent Expires

Upon the expiration of the patent, anyone can use the previously patented technology freely.  So, in essence, the patent serves to grow the public domain and to teach society about the new technology.  The patent donates the invention to the public domain to allow others to make and use the invention and to encourage further developments upon the existing technology.  In exchange for teaching others about the new technology, the patent gives the inventor a limited time to profit from their invention and if someone is using the technology without permission, the right to stop them and recover damages.

Do Patents Work?

Well, in the past, the patent system in the United States worked well.  Thomas Edison, the most prolific inventor in U.S. history, obtained 1,093 patents in his name.  He created one small invention every ten days and one major invention every six months, and was the inventor of many things, including a light bulb 214636, telephone 266022, the phonograph 430276, batteries 142999, process for generating electricity 460122 and large caliber bullets 1,300,708.

Once an invention has been developed, you may think that you own the invention.  However, without a patent, ownership of an invention is typically not possible.  An invention, unlike other works of art which are covered by copyright, can only be owned if a patent grant is awarded to the inventor covering the invention.

How to Start the Patent Process

To start the patenting process, you should first see if the invention is new.  You can perform a patent search or have an attorney prepare a patent search.  While a patent search is not required, it is often beneficial.  In any event, if you want to proceed with a patent, you should consider hiring a patent attorney early on in the patenting process to assist and advise you throughout the patent process.

A patent search can be conducted at the patent office search room in Arlington Virginia or using the United States Patent & Trademark Office’s website.  You can even use our website to preform a search. When you preform the search, you can use keywords which may find relevant patents or you can preform a classification index search if you are familiar with the classification index.

Ultimately, a patent search is meant to find other patents or applications which are related to your invention.  Once you find related inventions, you can further refine your search based on the patents you found.  The patent itself may be relevant to your invention.  In addition, the found patent may provide a reference list of other relevant patents which may be related to the patent found or your invention.  You can look at those patents and the additional patents they provide.  You should print off and study ach of the discovered relevant patents to see if your invention is still new and nonobvious.  If an issued patent or published application covers all aspects of your invention you may not be able to get a patent.  This should be done with a patent attorney who understands the patents and your invention to advise you if you can or how you can proceed.