The Patent Bargain, Part 1 of 2

The United States Patent and Trademark Office seal and flag. I took this picture at the USPTO headquarters.

What happens when you, someone in your organization, or even a team of people develop something new? That new development may be eligible for patent protection!

Let’s take a tiny step back for a moment. Allow me, in classic Clinton-ian fashion, to argue about the definition of a basic word, in this case, the word “new.” Generally, newness (or novelty, when we’re using the exact legal wording) means that the device, gadget, method, process, computer program, or other creation is made up of things that have never been combined in that particular way before. This is a fairly broad way of looking at “new.” In many cases, something is new/novel under the patent system if it has just one thing that is different compared to all the other gadgets in the world!

The new development must all have some use and cannot be too obvious to other people in your field. If the new development is novel, useful, and non-obvious you’re not out of the woods yet; there are many other requirements and pitfalls (like telling others about the development before applying for a patent), but you likely have something that is patent eligible on your hands!

In order to secure a patent, you must tell the public about your invention. An application must be sent in to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) detailing, among other things, what the inventor(s) believe is their invention and how to make and use the invention, including pictures! In order to properly educate the public, the application must describe the new development in a way that similarly talented people can reproduce and use the invention!

That may seem like a lot of work, but after you’ve navigated the USPTO and received a patent you, and only you, have the right to choose who can utilize your invention! This is an amazing right. A patent ensures that all inventors, even individual inventors and small, emerging technology companies, control the destinies of their creations, instead of having them stolen by larger, less-efficient juggernauts of industry. Because a patent gives its owner control over use of the technology it covers, it also allows innovative people and companies to protect the investment they have made in pushing the boundaries of man’s abilities. Your right to control your invention’s destiny is not unlimited; it expires 20 years after you apply for a patent.

In a nutshell, you share your innovation with the world so that, in the future, others may flatter you by reproducing it, and in the mean time you and only you choose how your technology impacts the world. This post isn’t meant to provide a comprehensive introduction to securing a patent, or the plethora of tools related to enforcing, licensing, or otherwise utilizing a patent. Posts on those subjects will likely come later.

There’s a lot to intellectual property and since the blog is called IPinSpace and not PatentsinSpace (that’s way too long for a name…), I’ll be talking about interesting issues with copyrights and trademarks too, like the Pizza Hut rocket, my recommendations for naming NewSpace companies, etc. In the mean time, for a good primer on the patent system in general, check this out! If you find yourself considering securing a patent or in need of advice on protecting new developments you or your company has made, contact me! It’s free!

On Wednesday, Part 2 of The Patent Bargain will chronicle how the patent system is like the childhood game of HORSE, so come back soon!

Happy Creating!

7 thoughts on “The Patent Bargain, Part 1 of 2

  1. Nice post, Andrew. The only thing to add might have been a short paragraph on the basic legal foundation of the patent system in the US, as found in the Constitution. I always found the wording enlightening: “..To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries…” A bargain, indeed!

  2. Thanks, Ben! I really like the Constitutional language, as well (thank you, Thomas Jefferson, lol)! I’ll be sure to mention it in Part 2 of the patent bargain, and in the FAQ!

  3. Pingback: The Patent Bargain, part 2 of 2 « IPinSpace

  4. Here’s an interesting one. In the mid-1970s while working for the European Space Agency (ESA) I was involved in defeating a patent application by a US company (can’t remember which one) that applied for a patent on the Geostationary Orbit.
    Cheeky, or what?

  5. Truly cheeky, was it a US patent application, or an application in a European country? It would be awesome to take a look at the app. And it’s always good to remember that patent applications are not patents until they actually issue!

  6. Pingback: What can I patent? The Broad approach of US Patent Law « IPinSpace

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