Patent systems and other monopoly have been used throughout Europe for hundred of years. The issue was so paramount to the U.S. Founding leaders that they included its basic description in the Constitution. One of the key principles of the patent system is to serve as an incentive for innovation. The incentive is created by granting the inventor a temporary monopoly on the invention. The monopoly allows the inventors time to profit from the innovation to recoup the development costs. Such development costs can be rationalized for many products such as hardware or pharmaceuticals. The system has generally work as intended for decades. However as an technology progressed new types of invention were created. In particular, the rise of computers and software allowed novel ideas to be created quickly with little or no capital expense required, and they created a new virtual field, where inventors applied for patents for seemingly different ideas and business methods. Many of these types of patents are now being extensively used in litigation or particularly by non-practicing enterprise, and so called patent trolls, due to large monetary damage that are being applied in these cases.

Structure of Patent

A Patent is often structured into five segments:

  1. cover-page
  2. background
  3. summary
  4. specification
  5. claims

The cover page contains several different elements, including, title, inventor , dates of application, and an abstract. The background is high level over view of the subject area, often highlighting a problem that is solved by innovative elements described in the patent. The summary is similar to the abstract except that is often comprises several paragraphs, where the abstract is limited to a single paragraph. It should be notified that the title, summary,abstract should not be descriptive of what patent really covers. Many people less familiar with patents will only focus in these areas when quickly reviewing the patent, which often results in the misinterpretation of true coverage of the patent. The Specification and claims are the heart of the patent. The specification is what and how of the innovation. It determines the process or product in detail such that one of the ordinary skills in subject area could build and perform or recreate the innovation. Claims are unique and often complex language that defines exactly what innovation are covered by the patent.

Patent Application procedure

  • Filing Provisional Application: This essentially serves as an option or place holder to file a full patent application. A Provisional Patent Application is faster and cheaper than a full application as it typically does not include full set of claims. Further the document is isn’t reviewed by the USPTO and it is not enforceable.
  • Filing a Non-Provisional Patent Application: The most common type of utility application which covers any innovation that provides “utility”. It contains some basic information as the provisional application but typically adds full claim sets. 
  • Prosecution of Application: The Non-Provisional utility application is then reviewed by the patent examiners who is a subject matter expert in the field related to the topic of the application. The patent examiner will search the prior art to see if the innovation described in the claim have been previously disclosed. The Office action document will judge whether the patent would be granted or the claims are rejected. If rejected the inventor may then reply to the office action and present new arguments or modify the claims. The prosecution process can be quite expensive based on many factors: number of claims, amount of back-and-forth responses required, and speed/priority of application.
  • Post-Grant: Even after a patent has been granted additional fees must be paid to keep patents valid.  Further, it is up to the inventor or assignee of the patent to enforce the patent should they feel someone is infringing on the claims of the patent. In fact, failure to enforce the patent may result in forfeiture of some or all of the rights afforded to that patent.Under a standard application priority, it typically takes 3-6 years for an application to become a granted patent. However, there are a few prioritization methods to reduce this time down to as little as a year, but the priority comes at the expense of an increased cost. If you work with a patent attorney or patent agent, the tasks required of the inventor are minimal and consist of disclosing the idea, signing some documents, and reviewing the application prior to submission.