Obtaining patents for your technology can be crucial in gaining market share, maintaining a competitive advantage, and securing the financing necessary to establish and grow your business. The more your products and services are noticed by competitors and potential investors, the more important patents become. Patents are a form of legal protection for the intellectual assets of your business, and each patent can serve as both a sword and a shield. . A patent may be your first idea to protect your ideas, but patents can be confusing at first. Let’s take a brief look at the broader category of intellectual property first, and then discuss the different types of patents.
The ownership of physical objects is relatively straightforward. If only you own your car, someone picking it up without your permission would be stealing. Other people may have identical cars – same make and model, same color, but they wouldn’t have your specific car.
One idea, however, is not so limited. Ideas can be shared. The information can be copied. Two people can have the same information at the same time and therefore have the same idea. An idea you have could be taken over by a competitor and used to gain an advantage against your business. And that’s where intellectual property law comes in. While an idea itself is not protected, the fruits of ideas (such as creative work, business goodwill, and knowledge-based technologies) can be protected if the right actions are taken at the right time. time.
Intellectual property in the United States encompasses four broad categories: patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets, and companies commonly use all four forms of protection for their knowledge base. A patent protects inventions so that as long as the patent is in force, the patentee has “the right to prohibit others from making, using, offering for sale or selling the invention. “. A patent is about protecting something new, whether it is an entirely new invention or an improvement of an existing invention. Inventors develop new technologies and, as a reward for disclosing their invention to the public in a patent application, may obtain exclusive rights to their inventions for a period of time.
The law recognizes three types of patents. A utility patent protects functional ideas, such as a new process or an improved type of machine. New utility patents will last twenty years from the filing date of the patent, and then anyone will be free to use the patented information without the permission of the inventor. When most people think of a patent, they probably think of a utility patent, but other types of patents are also useful.
While a utility patent protects the functioning of something, a design patent protects the appearance of something. An Apple design patent ultimately led to the notorious (or infamous) legal battle between Apple and Samsung over rounded angles. Since appearances (with some restrictions) can be patented (such as the appearance of a smart device or its user interface), many companies design their products to have a distinctive appearance and therefore patentable. New design patents last for fifteen years from the date the design patent is granted.
The final type of patent is the plant patent, which covers the development of a new type of plant. The plant must be able to be reproduced asexually (which means that the offspring are genetically identical to the mother plant). Plant patents last twenty years and are important legal protections for agricultural companies like Monsanto. Without plant patents, some types of agricultural development would not be profitable, as anyone could simply get seeds from the plant and grow for free what the company put in the time and effort to design.
Intellectual property law is an area where legal advisers are well advised. You have to be careful about how your ideas are shared with others, and a patent application has to be filed within certain windows of time, so waiting too long can mean loss of rights. In general, to apply for patent protection in the United States, you must file a patent application within one year of any public disclosure, launch, product release, offer to sell, or sale of a product or service that incorporates your invention. . Other jurisdictions such as Europe and China have more stringent standards and, depending on the type of invention, require filing a patent application before disclosure of the invention. While some aspects of intellectual property law may seem straightforward, intellectual property law is often not black and white, and when the foundation of your business is at stake, expert advice can be essential in ensuring that your ideas are properly protected.