Patents Overview: What You Need To Know

At Menlo Park Patents, we don't make any assumptions about your understanding of patents and the process to obtain one. Our guidance begins with the basics, addressing questions like “What is a patent?”, and progresses to offering assistance with your application. You're welcome to bypass any sections you're already comfortable with. We recognize that the patent application process can be intricate and detailed, and our goal is to provide clear, step-by-step support throughout your journey.

Scroll to
Learn More

First, What is Intellectual Property (IP)?

Intellectual Property (IP) refers to creative works or ideas that are expressed in a way that allows them to be shared, replicated, or used as a basis for manufacturing. This includes various forms such as patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is responsible for granting patents and registering trademarks. Copyrights, on the other hand, are registered through the U.S. Copyright Office, which is part of the Library of Congress. The USPTO provides a tool called the IP Identifier, designed to help you understand what types of IP you might possess and how to safeguard them. This tool guides you through six initial questions to help pinpoint your specific IP, followed by a more detailed questionnaire tailored to each type of IP. This process assists in identifying and protecting your intellectual property effectively.

What is a Patent?

A U.S. patent grants you, as the inventor, the authority to prevent others from making, using, offering for sale, selling, or importing your invention into the United States. In the case of a plant patent, this right extends to the parts of the plant as well; for instance, a plant patent on a specific apple variety would grant you rights over the apples produced by that variety. The essence of a patent is not to give the inventor the right to use or sell the invention, but rather to exclude others from these actions. If your patent rights are violated, you have the option to pursue legal action. It's important to note that U.S. patents are only enforceable within the United States, its territories, and possessions. Read more about our patent methodology here: Patent Methodology.

Types of Patents

Utility Patents: For creating a novel or enhanced and practical process, machine, manufactured item, or composition of substances.

Learn More

Design Patents: For devising a new, unique, and decorative design for a manufactured product.

Learn More

Plant Patents: For the invention or discovery and asexual reproduction of a distinct and novel plant variety.


How Long is a Patent Valid?

Utility and plant patents are valid for a period of up to 20 years from the date the initial non-provisional patent application was filed. In contrast, a design patent has a validity of 15 years starting from the date it is granted. To maintain a utility patent, you are required to pay maintenance fees according to a specific schedule after the patent is issued. In certain rare circumstances, the terms of patents can be extended or adjusted.

What Does Patent Pending Mean?

"Patent pending" is more than a label; it's a pivotal phase in the intellectual property protection process. This status begins when your patent application is filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and remains until the patent is either granted or denied. If your patent is pending, there are several strategic advantages.

Firstly, it serves as a warning to potential competitors. While it doesn't yet provide the full legal rights of a granted patent, it signifies your intent to pursue legal protection and can act as a deterrent against copying or infringement. This period is also crucial for businesses to strategically market their products and services, utilizing the status to build anticipation and demonstrate innovation.

Moreover, navigating the "patent pending" period requires strategic planning. It is a time to refine your product, considering feedback and potentially making improvements before the final patent grant. Menlo Park Patents specializes in providing guidance through this complex phase. We offer comprehensive support in optimizing your approach during this period, ensuring that you maximize the benefits of the "patent pending" status.

Our expertise extends to advising on marketing strategies during this period, managing potential infringement issues, and preparing for the transition once your patent is granted. Let us assist you in harnessing the full potential of your "patent pending" status.

Read more about the patent pending status here.

How to Get a Patent Pending Status

After understanding the significance of "patent pending," the next step is securing this status for your invention. This journey begins with meticulous preparation of your patent application, which involves a comprehensive disclosure of your invention, including its functionality, benefits, and how it differs from existing technology.

The application process is intricate, requiring detailed descriptions, technical specifics, and possibly, drawings or prototypes of your invention. Accuracy and completeness are paramount to prevent any unnecessary delays or rejections. Once submitted to the USPTO, your application is assessed for adherence to patenting criteria. Upon acceptance, your invention is granted "patent pending" status, marking a significant milestone in the patent journey.

At Menlo Park Patents, we excel in aiding inventors through this intricate process. Our expertise in crafting precise patent applications ensures a smoother path to achieving "patent pending" status. We're committed to turning your innovative ideas into protected intellectual property.

Explore Our Full Range of Patent Services

What Can Be Patented?

Legally, a utility patent can be granted for "any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof." A design patent, on the other hand, is applicable for "any new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture." Meanwhile, a plant patent is relevant for a "distinct and new variety of plant, including cultivated sports, mutants, hybrids, and newly found seedlings, excluding a tuber-propagated plant or a plant found in an uncultivated state," provided it was invented or discovered and asexually reproduced. To qualify for a patent, an invention must satisfy four criteria:

1. It must be functional (the invention must operate effectively and be more than just a theoretical concept).

2. There needs to be a detailed description of the invention’s creation and usage.

3. The invention must be novel, meaning it hasn't been done previously.

4. It should not be an obvious modification of an existing invention.

Patent law sets boundaries on what can be patented. For instance, natural laws, physical phenomena, and abstract concepts are not eligible for patents, nor can mere ideas or suggestions. There are also specific exclusions, like inventions pertaining solely to nuclear materials or atomic energy used in atomic weapons. However, the scope of patent-eligible subject matter is broad and diverse, covering various fields. For instance, certain business methods can be patented.

Conduct a Free Patent Search

How Much Does a Patent Cost?

Obtaining a patent is an important step for innovators and businesses, but it's essential to understand that the costs can vary widely. The initial expense comes from filing fees, which can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars depending on the type of patent and the size of the entity applying. Additionally, there are charges for the patent office to search and examine your application, the cost of which varies based on your invention's complexity. Professional patent drawings, often required, can add to this cost, especially for intricate inventions.

One of the most significant expenses in the patent process is attorney fees. Hiring a patent attorney or agent to prepare and prosecute your application is highly recommended, though it can be costly, with fees ranging significantly based on the invention's complexity and the professional's expertise. For utility patents, after the patent is granted, maintenance fees are required to keep the patent in force, and these increase at 3.5, 7.5, and 11.5 years after the grant.

If you're considering international patent protection, be prepared for higher expenses. International filings involve additional fees, and separate costs apply in each country where protection is sought. On average, a utility patent, including attorney fees, can range from $5,000 to $15,000+ for a small entity, while design patents are generally less expensive, ranging from $2,000 to $3,500.

There are ways to potentially reduce these costs, such as filing a provisional patent application, which secures a filing date and provides an extra year to refine the invention. If you qualify as a micro-entity, significant savings on USPTO fees are available. Additionally, undertaking some preliminary work yourself can cut costs, though this is not advisable for all aspects of the process.

In conclusion, while the cost of obtaining a patent can be substantial, it's a vital investment in the future of your invention. The value of a patent often justifies the initial expense, but it's crucial to weigh these costs against the potential benefits. Consulting with a patent attorney can provide a more precise estimate tailored to your specific situation.

Who May Apply for a Patent?

The inventor or their legal representative is eligible to apply for a patent, except in certain situations. These exceptions occur if the inventor has passed away, is legally incapacitated, refuses to apply, or is unlocatable. In cases where an invention is created collaboratively, all individuals involved may apply as joint inventors. Additionally, a person or entity (such as a company) that an inventor has transferred their invention rights to, or is contractually obligated to transfer the invention to, may also file for a patent. It's important to note that merely contributing financially does not qualify someone as an inventor or co-inventor on the patent application. Also, if you are not the inventor and the invention has not been legally assigned to you, or there is no obligation for the inventor to do so, you cannot apply for the patent.

What About Foreign Applicants for U.S. Patents?

Regardless of whether you are a U.S. citizen, you are eligible to apply for a U.S. patent. However, a U.S. patent cannot be granted if the invention was already patented in another country by you or your legal representative, and the foreign patent application was filed more than 12 months prior to the U.S. application date. For design patents, this period is limited to six months. Inventors from outside the U.S. should also be aware of additional specific requirements that may apply to them.

How Do I Apply for a Patent?

At Menlo Park Patents, we understand that obtaining and maintaining a patent involves a comprehensive, multi-step process. We offer a variety of resources to assist you from the initial stages of preparing and submitting your application, through the USPTO examination process, to finally receiving approval for your patent and subsequently maintaining it. Each phase of this process is crucial to the successful patenting of your invention. To gain a deeper understanding of this process and how we can guide you through it, we invite you to explore more about our approach on our Patent Methodology page.

Get Started Now

FAQs About Patents

How do I know if my idea is patentable?

What cannot be patented?

What can be patented?

Who can apply for a patent?

How long does it take to get a patent?

How long do patents last?