You have read or heard the stories of the theft of inventions and discoveries. Someone puts all of the hard work to create a new process and a competitor swoops in a steals the idea. The myriad innovations created by the Apple co-founders come to mind.
To prevent theft of your creative ideas, you need to patent the ideas.
Patents protect small business owners from the theft of inventions and new discoveries that “are useful, novel, or non-obvious.” When you receive patent protection, you have the exclusive right to prevent other people from using, creating, or selling your patented invention or discovery.
Small business owners and entrepreneurs have three types of patents to consider for protecting inventions and new discoveries: utility, plant, and design patents. To receive patent protection, you have to complete and file an application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Because of the vast number of annual patent applications, approval for any of the three types of patents can take longer than one year. As of February 2014, the average time to receive a patent approval was 18 months. The 18-month window represents an improvement over the 27-month patent application period in 2005.
As the most common type of patent, a utility patent cover new processes, manufactured goods, chemical compositions, and the development of new machinery. You can obtain a utility patent to protect a new improvement that provides tangible benefits, such as devising an ergonomically friendly way to control a vehicle steering wheel. Small business owners must choose between a provisional and non-provisional utility patent. A non-provisional utility patent represents the official utility patent filed with the USPTO. Provisional utility patents offer applicants more time to decide whether they want to file an official utility patent application. Look at provisional patents as an effective way to protect your groundbreaking new process, without forcing you to define the specifics of the new process.
As the name infers, a plant patent protects the development of a new and unique plant. To receive plant patent approval, you must create a new and unique plant that you reproduced asexually. Asexual reproduction involves reproducing a plant by grafting or cutting the plant, instead of reproducing the plant by planting seeds. A plant patent grants you the “exclusive right to use, sell, or asexually reproduce the same plant.”
Design patents create in ambiguity in the patent approval process. This type of patent protects the “surface ornamentation” of an object, which is a fancy way to say the shape of an object. Anyone who invents new type of “surface ornamentation” is eligible to file an application for a design patent. Even though the design of an object makes the design part of an object, a design patent only applies to the design of an object, not the object itself. To protect the structure of an object, you must file a utility patent with the USPTO.
As a highly technical part of law, patents require the expertise of a licensed business law attorney that has accumulated considerable experience working on patent cases. Every type of patent requires detailed application information that leaves most of our clients confused at best, and frustrated at worst. One minor mistake on a patent application causes the USPTO to deny your application and hence, leave your new invention or discovery vulnerable to theft.
We strongly urge prospective clients to schedule a free initial free consultation with our California law firm to speak with a licensed attorney who specializes in business law.