A U.S. patent is the grant of a property right by the Federal government to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, selling, or importing an invention to the United States. It is the responsibility of the patentee to police the market for entities violating that right and to bring an infringement suit in Federal Court against such entities, if necessary. There are three different types of patents an inventor, or inventors, can apply for. Utility patents are granted to those who invent a new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof. Design patents are granted to those who invent a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture. Plant patents are granted to those who invent and asexually reproduce any distinct and new variety of plant. Once a utility or plant patent issues, it is protectable for 20 years from the date the application for the issued patent was filed. That term is 15 years for design patents.
The application process for a U.S. patent is complex and issuance can take 3 to 5 years to achieve in most technical fields. However, owning a patent can be a very lucrative venture. As mentioned above, a patent essentially allows the owner to prevent others from entering the market for a specific invention for the term of up to either 20 years or 15 years. During that time, the owner has the right to limit competitors’ ability to practice the invention, as well as license the rights to others or even sell the rights outright to another entity.