When we usually think of property, we think of tangible objects and commodities that somebody owns. However, another form of property that is just as important is intellectual property. Intellectual property refers to the non-physical property that is the product of human intellect. This includes inventions, artistic designs, symbols, names, and images. There are three kinds of intellectual property that are common in the field of business law: copyrights, trademarks, and patents. Patents specifically help businesses who have a new idea, product, or process that they are trying to protect.
What is a Patent?
A patent is an exclusive right to an invention, which is a product or process that provides a new way of doing something or offers a new solution to a problem. Essentially, patents cover machines, processes, and manufactured goods. Patent owners have the exclusive right to stop others from using the patented invention commercially. The patented invention cannot be commercially made, used, or distributed without the consent of the patent owner.
Types of Patents
There are three types of patents. The most common patent is a utility patent. Utility patents protect new processes, machines, articles of manufactures, and compositions of matter. Utility patents are applicable to most new inventions, processes, or manufactured items. Another type of patent is a design patent. Design patents protect the “surface ornamentation” of an object, meaning that it protects the shape or appearance of an object. A design patent can only be obtained if the design and the product cannot be separated. A design patent can only protect the appearance of the product. A utility patent would be required to protect the functional aspects of the product. The final patent is a plant patent. A plant patent protects any new or unique plants. It is required that the plant can asexually reproduce to require a plant patent.
Restrictions on Patent Protection
The U.S. Patent Act requires usefulness, novelty, and non-obviousness of the object in question. The usefulness of the invention can be determined by the invention achieving its desired purpose or purposes. The novelty aspect of the U.S. Patent act requires that an invention was not already publicly known before the patent applicant invented it. Finally, U.S. patent law has a non-obviousness requirement. An invention is deemed obvious if the idea would be apparent to an individual who is “ordinarily skilled” in the relevant field.
Why are Patents Useful?
Patents can be very beneficial to a business. Specifically, startups or businesses who have unique ideas, products, and processes can benefit significantly from getting a patent. As mentioned earlier, a patent owner has the right to prevent others from using their patented invention commercially. This can create a barrier to entry for others and increases the market share for a business. An increased market share can increase profits due to the ability to charge more for a product. Also, a patent can “level the playing field” by allowing a smaller company to compete with larger corporations.