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Patent Basics for Entrepreneurs

Every entrepreneur needs to know something about patents, lest you miss an opportunity to invest in a lucrative new invention. Or worse, fail to patent yours as promptly as possible.

Patents are part of a system for organizing intellectual property. They protect inventions, so you need more than just an idea to be granted a patent and applying can be an arduous process. Still, wait too long and someone may beat you to the punch. So let’s get started.

Intellectual Property 

Patents protect an invention, intellectual property, by marking it as owned. To use the property, others must license or buy it, just as physical property is leased and sold. Owning the property means the owner can sue when unlicensed use is detected or a patent is infringed upon in some way.

Patents are for “new, useful and non-obvious inventions.” They can be granted for physical things or methods, techniques, and designs used in science, technology, industry, the military, and more.

The Basics 

No single agency or institution can grant an all-encompassing international patent. Patents are territorial. In the US, applications go through the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). They are generally granted for 20 years from the application filing date and provide the right to exclude others from exploiting the invention during that period. 

Application filing dates are an important consideration. You can’t just patent an idea. There must be some physical manifestation in detailed designs or a prototype, so there is much work to do before applying. Yet, you cannot wait too long because ideas are often in the zeitgeist and it’s likely someone is working on something similar right now.   

Acting Fast 

People rush to patent intellectual property because the first to file a patent is more likely to have it granted, making application filing dates much more than an administrative consideration. In a case that has become famous for its timing disputes, scientists from UC Berkeley are sparring with MIT researchers over ownership of a patent.

According to Nature, in March, the USPTO began an “interference,” or an investigation, into who deserves the patent on using CRISPR–Cas9, a technique to edit genes. This may determine who profits from the invention, which is expected to be very profitable indeed.

Talk to a Lawyer 

If you have inventions you’re considering patenting, talk to a lawyer. Get guidance. A patent attorney will explain the application process and guide you through it to ensure your work is protected.

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