Intellectual Property Is:
Assets created by the human mind that are used in business.
- Literary and Artistic Work
- Designs and Symbols
- Names and Images
- Trade Secrets
- Geographic Indicators
IP Comes in Two Categories
- Commercial or Industrial Property
Commercial and Industrial Property
- Patents protect what makes things work — like what makes a wheel turn or the chemical formula of your favorite fizzy drink. In patent speak, these are apparatusues, methods, processes. Sometimes inventors use the term systems which can be a combination of the three.
- Trademarks are signs (like words and logos) that distinguish goods and services in the marketplace.
- Designs protect the appearance of a product/logo, from the shape of the grill on your truck to a fashion item like the heel of your Jimmy Choo shoe to the curbed design of the iPhone.
- Geographical Indications
- Geographical indications and appellations of origin are signs used on goods that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities, a reputation or characteristics that are essentially attributable to that place of origin. Most commonly, a geographical indication includes the name of the place of origin of the goods like Napa, Sonoma, Côtes du Rhône, or Chianti Classico. Geographic indications are most commonly associated with wine but other food items like cheese, meat, olive oil, and vinegar also use geographic indicators to indicate its place of origin.
- American Viticultural Areas
- When a US winery wants to tell you the geographic pedigree of its wine, it uses a tag on its label called an Appellation of Origin. Appellations are defined either by political boundaries, such as the name of a county or state, or by federally-recognized growing regions called American Viticultural Areas (AVAs). See a list of American Viticultural Areas at The Wine Institute website.
- Trade Secrets
- Protection of confidential business information like the recipe for Coca-Cola or how UPS sorts its packages.
- Data Exclusivity
- Data exclusivity refers to a set period of time after the marketing approval, during which no one else may rely on or use the innovator's data to obtain a marketing authorization for a particular product. It constitutes an important incentive to the research and development of new medicines. Data exclusivity is a form of intellectual property as it restricts the use of a firm's clinical trial for a period of time.
Copyrights — How literary works are protected. Copyrights protect:
- Literary Works like books, novels, poems
- Video Games
- Artistic Work like paintings and drawings, photos, sculpture
- Performing Artists
- Broadcaster Rights — Radio or TV
- Producers of Recordings
What is IP Law?
IP law is essentially the rules that govern intellectual property. IP law seeks to strike a balance between the people who create intellectual property and the public at large. Fair Use laws enable you to copy parts of a book to teach a literature class and prevent others from making copies of whole works and selling them without compensating the creator. Trade Secret laws prevent you from sharing the formula for your companies new cleaning material with competitors. Patent law protects the inventor by allowing the inventor to make, sell, or license their invention (usually in the form of a product) for a fixed period of time in exchange for disclosing how the invention works to the public. Copyrights prevent you from selling a product called Coka-Cola because it will cause the consumer to be confused.
IP law seeks to enable innovation and creativity to flourish by both recognizing and compensating inventors, artists, writers, musicians, and painters while benefitting the public.
A Short List of Patent Basics
Here is a short list of patent fundamentals to get you started — an explanation of the three types of patents in the US patent system, some basics on patent numbers, and how to read the front page of a patent. There are also links to the other resources at Way Better Patents™. We pulled together our own cheat sheets to help you get started.
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 when the patent is granted."
Basically the government gives an inventor the exclusive right to his/her invention in exchange for disclosing how it works. In patent-speak the inventor is "teaching" a person ordinarily skilled in the art how to make the invention.
Three types of patents in the United States and their terms:
- Utility Patents are issued for the invention of a new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or a new and useful improvement. Most patents (about 90%) issued in the United States are Utility Patents. The term of Utility patents is 20 Years from Filed Date. Utility patents have maintenance fees which must be paid for the patent to remain valid.
- Design Patents cover the appearance of an article. Their term is 14 Years from Grant Date.
- Plant Patents are granted for asexually reproduced a distinct and new variety of plant, other than a tuber propagated plant or a plant found in an uncultivated state. If you've ever eaten a pluot, you've enjoyed the fruit of a plant patent. The terms of a plant patent is 20 Years from Filed Date.
There are other types of patents and patent documents including Reissues, Reexaminations and Defensive Publications.
Patent numbers are issued sequentially. USPTO publishes a list of which patent numbers were issued in each year.
Three Parts of a Printed Utility Patent Number
There are three primary pieces of information that uniquely identify a patent:
Here is a list of patent numbers and the format fo those numbers.
There are three important groups of people in the patent process:
- The Supporting Cast
The two most important groups of people involved in the patent process are the inventors and the examiners. The inventors discover, create, and design things that didn't exist before turning ideas into inventions. The examiners evaluate the patent application in light of the laws and make the decision on whether to grant the inventor the exclusive rights to the invention to the inventor or the company the inventor works for. Understanding what the inventors are inventing and how patent examiners evaluate those inventions is the essence of understanding the patent process.
Inventors and Examiners have a deep bench of suporting characters that bring inventions from idea to patent to market. The supporting cast includes patent agents, patent attorneys, national intellectual property offices, patent licensing executives, technology transfer professionals, product managers, inellectual property strategists, intellectual property researchers, licensing administrators, patent office professionals, classification experts, technical, scientific, and medical librarians, patent informatics designers, prior art researchers, inside counsel, outside counsel, crowd-sourced researchers and claim constructers.
High Level Road Map To Reading a Patent
If you've never read a patent before here's a high level overview of how a patent is organized. The USPTO's full text database and the printed and PDF version of the patent have slightly different formats. Here are links to a patent 7,512,548 for Use of shopping cart to collect and purchase items selected from multiple web sites. Look for these icons or underlined links to the actual patents. .
- Front Page — Bibliographic and classification information about the patent including the file date and the issue date. The image below identifies the parts.
- Abstract — A short summary of the invention and its novel features.
- Claims — The invention. A claim is a single sentence that starts with a capital letter and ends with a period. The claim is the invention. The rest of the application explains the claim.
- Description — The detailed description of the invention and how it works. The description should teach a person of ordinary skill in the art how to build and use the invention. The description has three parts:
- Summary of the Invention
- Background of the invention — a summary of the current state of affairs
- A summary of the new invention and why it's an improvement over the current state of affairs
- List of Figures
- Detailed Description of the Invention
- Drawings — Not all patents have drawings.
The Front Page of a Patent
The front page of a patent contains a summary of important patent data — the inventors, the examiners, the identifying information about the patent and the patent application, when the patent was filed, when it was granted, the prior art cited to support the application; US and International patent classifications that help explain what the science and technology disclosed in the patent is about. Here's a sample.