The Basics of Patent

A patent is a government granted monopoly which allows the owner of the patent to exclude others from making, using, offering to sell, and selling the patented invention within the United States. The monopoly also allows the owner of the patent to exclude other from importing the invention into the United States. A patent does not grant any such rights beyond the territorial reach of the United States.

The length of time a patent owner may assert his or her rights is called “patent term.”On new patent applications, the term of a patent generally runs from the day it is granted until 20 years after the date the patent was applied for. It usually takes about two and a half years to for a patent to be examined, so an average patent term might be 17 to 18 years.

So we’ve talked about what you get when you have a patent, but what do you have to give to get that patent? The government grant of the patent monopoly is, at the very least, contingent upon you telling the general public the best way you know how to make and use your invention. In exchange for increasing the universe of knowledge available to all, which hopefully leads to even more advances for the good of all, you may be entitled to a monopoly for a limited time on your invention as you can read on

As stated above, the rights associated with a patent are the rights to exclude others from making, using, offering to sell, and selling the patented invention. It is important to note that this is a “negative” right, meaning that the right doesn’t allow you to do something; it is a right which allows you to prevent others from doing something.

Does this mean that a patent is useless? No, the right to exclude others from doing something can be very powerful. Imagine if you owned the patent on the cellular phone; everyone would need a license from you to use their phone! But what if sub-portions of the cellular phone, for example the display or the electronics inside, were patented by someone else? Let’s look at two examples so we can answer that question.

Someone else has a patent on the automobile. You obtain a patent on an automobile with an automatic transmission. Because your patent right is a right to exclude, you can exclude others from making automobiles with automatic transmissions. But can you necessarily make an automobile with an automatic transmission? No, not without permission from the person with the patent on the automobile because they have a right to exclude others from making automobiles.

So coming back to the example of you having a patent on the cellular phone, it would not be safe to assume that you could make cellular phones without first checking to see if sub-portions of your phone were patented by others. However, you could still exclude others from using cellular phones.

The important thing to take from the above is that obtaining a patent does not grant you carte blanche rights to make or use an invention, merely to prevent others from making or using it. Others may have patent rights in sub-portions of your invention that are necessary to make your invention, as was described in article.

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