The concept of patents is popular and applicable not only in the US, but around the world too. We live in the age of intellectual property rights where patents play an important role in protecting new and innovative inventions. The protection of these inventions and exclusive innovations is required from the point of view of encouraging innovations. They prevent others from stealing the innovation and selling or manufacturing as their own. Patents are said by some to prevent the free flow of information as well as hinder and inhibit competition, and are allowed for a period of 20 years from the filing of the patent with competent authorities. This is more for the protection of the inventor, than a restriction of the free market.
When it comes to new inventions, one has to be quite protective as well as careful too. This is because the business world can be quite a murky place, where corporate maneuvers are possible in the arena of patents and intellectual property rights. Patents represent technological strength that innovators must arm themselves with so that their innovation can be protected. One can make use of special software to ensure that the patent being sought to be filed does not already exist. This is something that is independently verified by the patent attorney too before one files for a patent with the patent authorities.
There are some specific requirements of patents. For one, it has to be proved that the invention is indeed unique and is not an insignificant improvement over what existed earlier. Individual governments give patents to help the innovator and also society. These patents help the innovator produce their invention on mass scale without fearing undue competition. These patents help to deter free riders and idea thieves who might steal the product innovation without spending on R&D or making any effort.
It is required that you file the patents before making the invention public. If it is disclosed prior to being implemented, it would not be granted a patent as one cannot patent ideas. But if you file a patent with sketches and descriptions of the invention duly notarized, the USPTO would accept it and hold it for two years.
Patents are not only for physical inventions as you can also patent a business method. These are part of the utility patents which protect chemical formulae and discoveries apart from inventions. In the past, these non physical and process or business method patents were disregarded. The situation has changed now, with business method patents being tenable and maintainable.
Design patents are a useful tool to protect innovative designs in computer equipment and peripherals. New, original commercial designs for products can be protected relatively inexpensively, thereby preventing a competitor from making a product which looks identical to an existing product. Design patents only cover an item's look or form. Design patents do NOT protect an idea or an invention, but rather only protect ornamental design of exactly what is pictured. This means that they are weaker than a utility patent, but because they are VERY easy to get you should consider them to round out your portfolio.
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