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Patent Drawings

What is a Patent?

When a new invention or product is invented, the inventor may try to protect his ideas from being used or taken by applying for an award called a patent. There are 3 types of patents: design, plant and utility. The U.S. Government has a Patent Office located in Arlington, Virginia, which studies the applications for new ideas or products and issues patents. The right of this type of protection is guaranteed in the Constitution of the United States (Article 1 Section 8) and has been in place for over 200 years. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office works to issue patents to inventors to help them make money from their invention by only permitting those who get permission from the inventor to sell, make, import or use the invention to make new things. A patent will protect the invention for up to 20 years. Many times the original inventor will sell or license the rights to an invention to someone else. Many inventions that receive patents are never made commercially and so the person who received the patent never makes any money from their ideas. It can cost $4,000 or more to get a patent and can take almost 2 years.

Patents are issued for a period of 20 years. When they expire they can not be renewed except in special circumstances. After the patent expires, the inventor is no longer protected and someone else may use the idea. You do not have to have a patent for your invention in order to make and sell it, but if you have a good idea and it is not protected by a patent then others can also make and sell your invention. It doesn't matter how old you are, anyone who has invented or greatly improved an item can apply for and be granted a patent.

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 Three Types of Patents

Design patents are issued for products or items that have a special look which is new or different. This type of patent might be given for a new design of tennis shoe or the look of a product. Pokemon characters are protected by design patents.

Plant patents are awarded for new plant varieties. You may have a special type of rose or type of tomato plant growing in your garden which has been issued a patent for the specific plant type.

Utility patents can be given for the way an item is used or or what it does. Utility patents are also issued for things that are manufactured. Machines such as computers and items such as medicines would receive an utility patent. Fred Frick received utility patents for his Electric Program Clock.

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 Trademarks and Copyrights

Sometimes people confuse patents with trademarks or copyrights. These are each given for different reasons. Trademarks protect things that can be a sound, name, or a logo that distinguishes a product or service. Trademarks can be renewed as long as it is being used in business. When something is trademarked it usually has a TM or next to its name or picture to show that it has been registered.

A copyright protects things like a song or book that someone has written. Copyrights are registered at the Library of Congress. Copyrights last the lifetime of the author plus another 70 years. When something is copyrighted it usually has a symbol next to its name.

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Carla Schutte, Mike Lipinski, Susan Silverman
Gail Watson, Tammy Payton
March 2000