Frequently Asked Questions
A patent is a contract between an inventor and the government. The inventor provides a complete description of the invention to the public in an application for patent. This benefits the public by providing knowledge of the invention for use as a foundation for additional innovation. In return, if the invention is new (as compared to everything known to the public prior to the invention), a patent is issued. This patent gives the inventor a right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the patented invention throughout the United States, and from importing the invention into the United States, for the life of the patent, usually 20 years from filing.
Grant of a patent does NOT itself give an inventor a right to exploit the patented invention – it only gives the inventor a right to exclude others from practicing the invention. For example, if an inventor makes an improvement to a previously patented machine, and gets a patent, the inventor can prevent the owner of the original patent from using the improvement. However, the inventor may not be able to exploit the improvement itself, at least until the original patent expires, because such exploitation might infringe that original patent.
Title 35 of the United States Code (the “Patent Statutes”) set forth the standards and procedures for obtaining patents. Patents are granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), an agency of the Department of Commerce.
The following items are patentable under these statutes:
Processes: new methods of doing something
Machines: engines, machinery, instruments, gadgets, etc.
Articles of manufacture: circuits, tools, structures made of metal, plastics, ceramics, etc.
Compositions of matter: new pharmaceuticals, chemical compounds, naturally occurring substances when substantially purified, DNA sequences, biological materials, e.g. bacteria, viruses, proteins and protein fragments, monoclonal antibodies, epitopes, and vectors.
Improvements in any of the above
Living organisms: genetically altered plants and animals.
Computer programs: alone and in conjunction with other equipment.
Business methods: methods for doing business, but not those solely directed to patenting abstract ideas.
Designs: ornamental aspects of articles of manufacture.
Non-patentable items include: nebulous concepts or ideas, laws of nature (e.g., gravity), mathematical algorithms alone (but computer-implemented mathematical algorithms producing a concrete, useful, and tangible result are patentable subject matter), and purely mental processes.
A key element to effective patent protection is writing patent claims that define the invention as broadly as possible, but without overlapping prior art that could make the patent invalid. This is generally best done by someone with skill and experience in patent practice, so consulting with a patent attorney is a wise choice.
Timothy A. French
Fish & Richardson
Find a Ranked Patent Law Firm
Other Practice Areas
See overviews for the practice areas included in our Best Law Firms research.
Select Practice Area
Administrative / Regulatory Law
Admiralty & Maritime Law
Banking and Finance Law
Bankruptcy and Creditor Debtor Rights / Insolvency and Reorganization Law
Business Organizations (including LLCs and Partnerships)
Civil Rights Law
Closely Held Companies and Family Businesses Law
Commercial Finance Law
Commercial Transactions / UCC Law
Corporate Compliance Law
Corporate Governance Law
Criminal Defense: General Practice
Criminal Defense: White-Collar
Derivatives and Futures Law
Economic Development Law
Eminent Domain and Condemnation Law
Employee Benefits (ERISA) Law
Employment Law - Individuals
Employment Law - Management
Energy Regulatory Law
Entertainment Law - Motion Pictures & Television
Entertainment Law - Music
Equipment Finance Law
Ethics and Professional Responsibility Law
Family Law Mediation
Financial Services Regulation Law
First Amendment Law
Government Relations Practice
Health Care Law
Information Technology Law
International Arbitration - Commercial
International Arbitration - Governmental
International Trade and Finance Law
Labor Law - Management
Labor Law - Union
Land Use & Zoning Law
Legal Malpractice Law - Defendants
Legal Malpractice Law - Plaintiffs
Leisure and Hospitality Law
Leveraged Buyouts and Private Equity Law
Litigation - Antitrust
Litigation - Banking & Finance
Litigation - Bankruptcy
Litigation - Construction
Litigation - Environmental
Litigation - ERISA
Litigation - First Amendment
Litigation - Intellectual Property
Litigation - Labor & Employment
Litigation - Land Use & Zoning
Litigation - Mergers & Acquisitions
Litigation - Municipal
Litigation - Patent
Litigation - Real Estate
Litigation - Regulatory Enforcement (SEC, Telecom, Energy)
Litigation - Securities
Litigation - Tax
Litigation - Trusts & Estates
Mass Tort Litigation / Class Actions - Defendants
Mass Tort Litigation / Class Actions - Plaintiffs
Medical Malpractice Law - Defendants
Medical Malpractice Law - Plaintiffs
Mergers & Acquisitions Law
Mortgage Banking Foreclosure Law
Mutual Funds Law
Native American Law
Natural Resources Law
Non-Profit / Charities Law
Oil & Gas Law
Personal Injury Litigation - Defendants
Personal Injury Litigation - Plaintiffs
Privacy and Data Security Law
Private Funds / Hedge Funds Law
Product Liability Litigation - Defendants
Product Liability Litigation - Plaintiffs
Professional Malpractice Law - Defendants
Professional Malpractice Law - Plaintiffs
Project Finance Law
Public Finance Law
Real Estate Law
Securities / Capital Markets Law
Securitization and Structured Finance Law
Trusts & Estates Law
Venture Capital Law
Workers' Compensation Law - Claimants
Workers' Compensation Law - Employers
The Lea Schultz Law Firm, P.C.
Brown & James, P.C.
Walden Macht & Haran LLP
Search All Law Firms
Best Law Firms
U.S. News – Best Lawyers
"Best Law Firms" publication is the definitive rankings guide to 12,000 firms in 120 practice areas in 170 metropolitan regions and 8 states.
Preview the Publication