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How to Apply for A Patent

November 19th, 2013 Personal Finance

If you have a million-dollar idea, the first step in turning it into a reality is to get a patent. These documents can be obtained from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), but it's a good idea to take a few steps first.

What a patent does
A patent will protect your invention from being manufactured, imported or sold without your permission, often for 20 years. This designation can help you to make money from your invention and control its use. Some people choose not to get patents, like Jonas Salk, the famed inventor of the polio vaccine. Salk chose not to have his invention patented so that it would be easier and less expensive for people to obtain, according to the Salk Institute. 

However, not getting a patent or waiting too long to get one may allow someone else to profit from an idea you originally had. Patents can be expensive to obtain, so it's important to know if your item or idea is worth the investment. If your application is worthwhile and successful, however, you may be able to earn money from you invention!

What can be patented
The USPTO grants patents for utilities, designs and plants. A utility is a new invention that performs an entirely new function from anything else, or one that is a great improvement on an already existing item. This is the most common patent sought after and granted. A design is the plan for an ornamental object or something similar. Plant patents are awarded to people who have bred or discovered a new species of plant. If a plant is discovered, it must be within a cultivated area or else the mutation may have occurred naturally. 

Ideas, fiction, literature, music and other artistic endeavors are subject to copyright and can be equally protected but the process and offices involved are different.

No matter what you plan to patent, it's essential that there are no other products or services that perform the same function. If any device exists in the domestic or foreign market before your application process, you may be denied a patent, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce Office of Intellectual Property Rights. However, you can patent devices and processes that improve upon an item that already exists as long as the improvement is not purely cosmetic. If a device you were planning to patent has already been described in a printed publication, you may also have trouble with your application. The best way to find out if your invention has already been patented is to conduct a patent search.

How to search
Now that much of the process (along with bulletins of existing patents) is online, it is much easier to sort through the data. The USPTO breaks down the process into an easy-to-navigate series of steps. There are also tutorials and other methods available to help search for patents from the same organization. If need be, there are many legal firms and lawyers dedicated to patent law who are able to help as well.

Types of applications
There are two main applications for patents. The first is a provisional patent application. When an item is labeled as "patent pending," the inventor has applied for this type of application. These are less expensive to secure than regular patent applications, but in most cases they only last for a year before the inventor must apply for a traditional application.

A regular patent application is what actually gets the gears turning with your invention. Once the application is processed, your invention will be considered by the patent office and will then be eligible to receive a patent.