|Patent, in law, the abbreviated term for letters
patent, in its most general sense a document issued by a government conferring some
special right or privilege. In the U.S. the term is now restricted principally to patents
for inventions granted under federal statute. The specific attributes of novelty of the
item for which a patent is sought are called claims. A patent gives the inventor the
exclusive privilege of using a certain process or of making, using, and selling a specific
product or device for a specified period of time.
In America, the first patents for inventions were issued in
1641 by the colonial governments. The first U.S. patent laws were enacted by Congress in
1790 under the authority of Article 1, Section 8, of the Constitution. The Patent Act of
1790 was administered by a commission composed of the secretary of state, the secretary of
war, and the attorney general of the U.S. The basis of the present patent system is the
act of July 4, 1836. Many legislative enactment's have modified the original patent law.
The most important of these is the act of July 8, 1870, and the subsequent act of July 19,
1952, which revised and codified the patent laws and which, with amendments, constitute
the patent law in force at the present time. In 1849 the Patent Office became a part of
the Department of the Interior; it was transferred by executive order of the president to
the Department of Commerce in 1925. On January 2, 1975, the name was changed to Patent and
In the U.S. the law provides that a patent may be granted
to any person for the invention or discovery of any new and useful art, machine,
manufacture, or composition of matter or any new and useful improvement thereto; for the
invention of asexual reproduction of any distinct and new variety of plant, other than a
tuber-propagated plant; or for any new, original, and ornamental design for an article of
manufacture. In 1980, such patent coverage was also extended to the products of gentic
engineering, including seeds, plants, and cultivars, as well as to new genetic engineering
methods themselves. A patent is granted only on the filing of an application complete in
all respects and on payment of the fees, and only after a determination has been made that
the disclosure is complete and the invention new and useful.
The patent is issued in the name of the U.S. under the seal
of the Patent and Trademark Office. It consists of a short title, together with a printed
copy of the specifications and claims, a patent number, and a grant to the patentee and
his or her heirs and assignees for a period of 17 years. In the case of design patents,
the period of the patent is 14 years. Every patent must be applied for by the actual
inventor, and if two or more parties make an invention jointly they must apply jointly. If
the inventor dies or becomes insane before making application, a legal representative or
guardian is permitted to do so. Patents may be transferred from one party to another; the
written assignment is recorded in the Patent and Trademark Office.
Once a patent is granted, it is out of the jurisdiction of
the Patent and Trademark Office, and matters of infringement, the scope of the patent, or
any other questions that arise out of the grant are within the jurisdiction of the U.S.
district courts. Infringement consists of wrongfully making, using, or selling a patented
invention. The law requires that patented articles be marked with the patent number;
failure to do so will prevent the recovery of damages for infringement, unless the patent
owner can prove that due notice of such infringement was given to the person charged with
infringing the patent, who continued after such notice to make or sell the patented
product. The remedy for an infringement is an action for damages or for a restraining
injunction, or both. It is customary for the manufacturer of an item for which a patent is
sought to mark the product "patent pending" or "patent applied for";
such notice to the public affords an opportunity to others who may claim to have invented
the same products to institute proceedings, called interference proceedings, in the Patent
and Trademark Office to determine the originality of the claim of the applicant.
In general, a patent affords protection against
infringement only within the jurisdiction of the government by which it is issued, and it
is therefore necessary to take out a patent in every country in which protection is
desired. Patent statutes have been enacted in most nations; the most important
international treaty is the International Convention for the Protection of Industrial
Property (1883; since revised).
Copies of U.S. patents may be purchased from the Patent and
Trademark Office in Washington, D.C.; photostatic copies of foreign patents may also be
obtained on payment of the required fees, as nearly complete sets of the patents of many
foreign countries are available in the Patent and Trademark Office library.
In fiscal year 2004, the Department of
Commerce’s United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) granted
187,170 patents, including 169,296 utility (inventions), 16,533 design,
and 998 plant patents as reported in its fiscal year 2004 Performance
and Accountability Report released today. Since 1790, over seven million
U.S. patents have been granted.
- Over 50% of all patents applied for are abandoned before they issue
- Only 1% of all the patents issued
become legitimate products
- Ordinary people have invented the
majority of new products and technology
- Many inventors make a very lucrative
career out of licensing ideas to manufacturers
- Approximately 18,000 patents are issued by the patent office every
- 73% of all inventions that have
changed the course of industry came from independent inventors not
Source: Inventors Assistance League.