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Can you file a patent?

You’ve got a fresh, new idea for an invention. You’re excited. You think you could even make some money off this. You want to protect your invention. Now what?

Filing for a patent may seem like a daunting process, but it doesn’t have to be. The first step is finding out if your invention is, indeed, protectable and patentable. With some work and a little help, you can defend and capitalize on your invention.

Identify the protection you need

What is your invention? Is it patentable? Or do you need a trademark or a copyright?

According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, a patent is “the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling” your invention. A trademark is “a word, name, symbol or device” that distinguishes your goods from others. And a copyright protects the authorship of a work, including literary, artistic and musical pieces.

Types of patents

There are types of patents recognized by the federal government:

  • A utility patent is the most common. A utility patent protects a new and useful invention or process, or a significant improvement on an existing product or process.
  • Design patents protect the way something looks and its characteristics.
  • A plant patent is given when a new variety of plant is discovered and reproduced asexually. The patent bars others from reproducing or selling the variety of plant.

What is patentable?

When you submit your idea to the Patent Office, they will decide patentability based on three primary criteria: Is it “useful,” is it “novel” and is it “nonobvious”?

To be useful, you must demonstrate that your idea or invention is has a purpose and can be operated.

To prove novelty to the Patent Office, an invention cannot have been previously patented or previously well known to the public. It cannot have been previously described in a publication and it cannot have been previously sold to the public.

Nonobvious means that your invention must be sufficiently different from someone else’s. The Patent Office says that someone having skill in the area to which your invention pertains would not find it obvious to make the change you describe.

Get representation

Filing for a patent can be a long process, and you may wish to seek a patent lawyer to help you with the process. In fact, the Patent Office itself recommends seeking an attorney for the process. Remember, your intellectual property belongs to you, and it’s important to keep it protected.

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