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Patent Frequently Asked Questions

What laws govern patent law?
Section 101 of Title 35 generally defines what can and cannot be patented.  According to Section 101, any process, machine, manufacture, composition of matter or improvement thereof may be patented. However, courts have created some exceptions to the generally broad subject matter of patent law. Courts do not allow the patenting of laws of nature, abstract ideas and natural phenomena.

What Can Be Patented?

For utility patents, any process, machine, manufacture, composition of matter or improvement thereof may be patented. Natural phenomena, abstract ideas and laws of nature may not be patented.  Designs may be patented under the Design Patent Act and certain plants maybe patented under the Plant Patent Act.

How does an individual obtain a patent?

To obtain a patent, a person must file an application with the Patent and Trademark Office. This may be done in person, by mail, or online.

How long does a patent last? Can it be renewed?

A utility patent lasts for 20 years after the date of filing of the patent application with the Patent and Trademark Office. Patents are not eligible for renewal.

Are Business Methods Patentable

Business methods are patentable. The Supreme Court case of Bilski v. Kappos clarified the patentability of business methods patents, stating that business methods do not necessarily have to be tied to a machine or transform matter from one state to another to be patentable.

How Do Design Patents Differ From Other Patent Types?

Design patents differ from other patent types in that they may only include one claim.

What is a Patent Search and How Do I Get Started Searching

A patent search is a search of registered patents to see if your invention has been previously patented. A good way is to go to the Patent and Trademark Office’s website and perform a search at http://www.uspto.gov/patents/process/search/index.jsp. Patent searching is usually not a necessary step for patent applicant as the Patent and Trademark  Office conducts its own patent search to examine the prior art of the claims in the patent.

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