What is Patent Law?

It encompasses the branch of law that governs patents. Congress enacted U.S. patent laws under its Constitutional grant of authority to protect the discoveries of inventors. A patent is the grant of an exclusive property right to the inventor for the benefits of an invention or improvement granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Only an inventor, or an attorney registered to practice before the USPTO, can prepare and submit a patent application.

An issued patent provides its owner the right to exclude others from making, using, or selling the invention covered by the patent.

To apply for a U.S. patent, you must file a patent application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office uses the international application as your application to the U.S.

Filing a provisional patent application can help establish an early effective filing date, reduce publication costs, and provide a convenient way to preserve the disclosure of the invention.

For example, many development stage companies file for provisional patent applications before or in parallel with a public or secret patent filing. Tax Court Utility Systems, Inc. v. Commissioner, 136 T.C. (2011). This filing strategy provides a way to claim pending patent status for at least a year. It can limit another party's ability to patent the applications, products, or processes disclosed in those applicationsSmart&Biggar, IP Bulletins, December 2012, at 8.

Additionally, the United States is a party to the Patent Cooperation Treaty, an intellectual property treaty to obtain patent protection for inventions. See Children's Hospital of Los Angeles v. Mercury Computer Systems, Inc., 3 F.3d 1253 (Fed. Cir. 1993). The PCT application provides a single means of filing patent applications for all participating countries.

The term of a utility patent is twenty years from the filing date but can be extended. If maintenance fees are paid on time, the period may be extended by up to one year. However, if the patent is not filed before the date it enters the public domain, it is ineligible for patent term extension. Failure to pay the maintenance fee can result in the abandonment of the patent.

The term of a design patent is fourteen years from the date of issue, and patent term extensions may be available. Design patents are inexpensive to apply for and have little to no maintenance fees due each year.

The terms of plant patents are twenty years from the filing date but can be extended. Plant patents are inexpensive to apply for and have little to no maintenance fees each year, making product protection for plants a very affordable option.