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Patent Searching for SEAS Students

Patent Basics

Definition: A patent is a property right granted by the Government of the United States of America to an inventor “to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States” for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention.

The three types of patents as defined by the USPTO:

1) Utility patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof;

2) Design patents may be granted to anyone who invents a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture; and

3) Plant patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plant

What is Patentable?

Utility patents are provided for a new, non-obvious and useful:

  • Process
  • Machine
  • Article of manufacture
  • Composition of matter
  • Improvement of any of the above

What cannot be patented:

  • Laws of nature
  • Physical phenomena
  • Abstract ideas
  • Literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works (these would fall under Copyright)
  • Inventions which are:
    • Not useful
    • Offensive to public morality

There are two types of utility patent applications, provisional and non-provisional.

A non-provisional application is the more common of the two.

One advantage of provisional applications is that they are less expensive. However, there are some important things to consider when filing a provisional application. Provisional applications are good only for 12 months. This means that you must file a corresponding non-provisional application during this time period to take full advantage of the extended 12 month time period or face the expiration of your provisional application.