Patents are products of the legal system. As such, they apply only to inventions, and then only if the invention falls within legally defined categories. Anything outside these categories cannot be patented. The U.S. has a “first inventor to file” policy regarding invention, meaning that the first originator of an invention to file a patent application receives credit for it. The first person to patent an invention will not receive credit unless it was their original invention. Also, in the United States you have 12 months from the first enabling disclosure, in which you describe your invention in significant detail so that someone reasonably skilled in your field can reproduce your invention, without undue experimentation to actually claim your invention in a patent application.

In the United States, the date that is 12 months from the date of the first enabling public disclosure is the bar date for filing a patent application. If an application is not filed before or on the bar date, the invention is no longer patentable. In most foreign countries, however, patent rights to an invention are generally destroyed if an inventor does not file a patent application before the invention’s first enabling public disclosure, in the United States or overseas. The three legal classes of patentability are:

Utility Patents

Granted to inventions that involve a new and useful process, device, machine, manufactured item, chemical compound or formula. Utility patents, which apply to virtually anything that can be made, are granted for a period of 20 years from the date of filing a patent application, after which the patent to an invention becomes public property.

Design Patent

Granted to a new, original ornamental design for a manufactured item. Patents on ornamental designs last 14 years, and they protect only the appearance of the item.

Plant Patent

Granted to an invented or discovered new plant variety that can be asexually reproduced. Plant patents are granted for a 20-year period.

Also, the United States allows its inventors to file provisional patent applications. Provisional patent applications are described in Chapter 6.

The Inventor Handbook is written as a preliminary guide for inventors and where legal rights are concerned, the reader should consult a qualified attorney.