Students FAQs - Understanding the Patent and Trademark Office

The Patent and Trademark Office - Your Questions Answered

Why do you need a patent? 

A patent gives an inventor the right to exclude all others from making, using, importing, selling or offering to sell the invention for up to 20 years without the inventor's permission. This gives the inventor the opportunity to produce and market the invention himself, or license others to do so, and to make a profit.

Does an inventor get paid when a patent is granted? 

A patent does not guarantee monetary success by itself.

An inventor gets paid byeither selling the invention or by licensing or selling (assigning) the patent rights to someone else. Not all inventions are commercially successful. The invention may actually cost the inventor more money than he or she makes unless a strong business and marketing plan is created.

Do patents cost a lot of money? 

The cost can be very high for some people although fees for the patent application, issue and maintenance fees and other related fees are reduced by 50 percent when the applicant is a small business or individual inventor. You can expect to pay the U. S. Patent and Trademark Office a minimum of about $4,000 over the life of the patent.

Do you need a patent to sell an invention? 

No, you have the right to make, use, and sell your own invention as long as it does not violate (infringe) someone else's patent. The patent gives you the right to exclude others from doing so without your permission.

What does "patent pending" mean? 

Patent Pending is a phrase that often appears on manufactured items. It means that someone has applied for a patent on an invention that is contained in the manufactured item. It serves as a warning that a patent may issue that would cover the item and that copiers should be careful because they might infringe if the patent issues.

Once the patent issues, the patent owner will stop using the phrase "patent pending" and start using a phrase such as "covered by U.S. Patent Number XXXXXXX." Applying the patent pending phrase to an item when no patent application has been made can result in a fine.

What would happen if you didn't have a patent? 

In some cases, you could keep your invention a secret like the Coca-Cola Company keeps the formula for Coke a secret. This is called a trade secret. Otherwise, without a patent you run a risk of someone else copying your invention with no rewards to you as the inventor.

How old do you have to be to get a patent? 

There are no age restrictions on applying for a patent, but only the true inventor is entitled to a patent. The youngest person to be granted a patent is a four-year-old girl from Houston, Texas, for an aid for grasping round knobs.

What was the first patent? 

The first U.S. patent was granted in 1790 to Samuel Hopkins of Philadelphia for "making pot and pearl ashes"-a cleaning formula used in soapmaking.

Can you renew a patent after it expires? 

No, you can't renew a patent after it expires. However, patents may be extended by a special act of Congress and under certain circumstances certain pharmaceutical patents may be extended to make up the time lost during the Food and Drug Administration's approval process.

After the patent expires, the inventor loses exclusive rights to the invention.

Can you remove a patent from a product? 

An inventor probably wouldn't want to lose patent rights on a product. However, a patent may be lost if determined to be invalid by the Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks. For example, as a result of a re-examination proceeding or if the patentee fails to pay the required maintenance fees the patent may be lost. A court may also determine that a patent invalid.

How can you be sure no one will steal your patent? 

If you think someone has infringed your patent rights, then you can sue that person or company in a federal court.

How do you know the people who work in the patent office are trustworthy for the job? 

Each employee at the Patent and Trademark Office takes an oath of office to uphold the laws of the United States.

In addition, employees of the Patent and Trademark Office are prohibited from applying for patents themselves. 

What happens if two people have the same idea and both apply for patents? 

This happens sometimes. When the Patent and Trademark Office receives two patent applications for the same inventions, the cases go into an interference proceeding. The Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences then determines the first inventor who thus may be entitled to a patent based on the information provided by the inventors. This is why it is so important for inventors to keep good records.

Can food and clothing be patented? 

Yes. A patent may be obtained for any new, useful, unobvious invention. A patent generally cannot be obtained on the laws of nature, physical phenomena, and abstract ideas; a new mineral or a new plant found in the wild; inventions useful solely in the utilization of special nuclear material or atomic energy for weapons; a machine that is not useful; printed matter; or human beings.

How can I find out if my invention has or hasn't been invented by someone else? 

Inventors can make a search of patents already granted, textbooks, journals and other publications to be sure that someone else has not already invented their idea. They may hire someone to do it for them or may do this themselves at the Public Search Room of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Arlington, Virginia, on the PTO web page on the Internet, or at one of the Patent and Trademark Depository Libraries across the country.

Can the USPTO tell me if my invention has been patented yet? 

The USPTO will not tell you if your invention has already been invented by someone else unless you apply for a patent.

Is there only one Patent and Trademark Office in the USA? 

Yes, there is only one, and it is located in Arlington, Virginia, close to Washington, DC.

How many people work at the Patent and Trademark Office? 

It currently takes about 6,500 employees to do the job that the first patent board-Thomas Jefferson, Henry Knox, and Edmond Randolph-did a little over 200 years ago.

How long does it usually take to get a patent? 

At this time it takes an average of 22 months.

Are there certain qualifications that you need for a good patent application? 

There are specific requirements for all patent applications. An application must include a specification, including a description and claim(s); an oath or declaration identifying the applicant(s) believing to be the original inventor(s); a drawing when necessary; and the filing fee. Prior to 1870, a model of the invention was required as well. Today, a model is almost never required.

If I get a patent from any country's Patent Office in the world is my invention protected in all the other countries? 

In general, patents are only effective in the country for which they are granted.

How different does one trademark have to be from another? 

To determine whether there is a conflict between two marks, the Patent and Trademark Office determines whether consumers would be likely to confuse the goods or services of one party with those of the other party as a result of the use of the marks at issue by both parties.

Why do some products have so many names? 

Naming an invention actually involves developing at least two names. One name is the generic name. The other name is the brand name or trademark. For example, Pepsi® and Coke® are brand names; cola or soda are the generic or product names. Big Mac® and Whopper® are brand names; hamburger is the generic or product name. Nike® and Reebok® are brand names; sneaker or athletic shoe are generic or product names.

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Your Citation
Bellis, Mary. "Students FAQs - Understanding the Patent and Trademark Office." ThoughtCo, Aug. 12, 2016, Bellis, Mary. (2016, August 12). Students FAQs - Understanding the Patent and Trademark Office. Retrieved from Bellis, Mary. "Students FAQs - Understanding the Patent and Trademark Office." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 18, 2018).