A United States patent is a legal, government granted property right. The patent holder has the right to exclude others from making, using, selling or offering to sell (often called “practicing”) the patented invention in the United States for a set period of time. This is sometimes called a government granted patent monopoly. Essentially, a patent holder has a monopoly on the invention for a period that is about twenty years from filing.
Inventions that Can Be US Patented
The patent may be directed to a product, composition, machine, process, a method, a system, software or an improvement of any of these, that is useful, new (“novel”) and inventive (“non-obvious”). Inventions may include mechanical devices (i.e., a medical device, a bag or a box, a brake caliper, a hanger, etc.), electrical devices (i.e., improvement to a toaster, a microwave, a sensor, solar panels, etc.), electronics (i.e., power supply, circuitry improvements, radio antenna designs, etc.), methods or processes (i.e., extracting improvements with the extraction of gold from ore, removal of sulfur from hydrocarbon fuel), a system (i.e., several machines together for welding automotive assemblies, etc.), software features (swipe to unlock, pull down to refresh, etc.). Inventions may be directed to improvements to any one of these. Additionally, inventions may involve combinations of these (i.e., an electronic lock that has improvements in both a mechanical aspect and an electronics aspect).
What is Included in a US Patent?
Most generally, a patent includes a specification that describes the invention in detail, including, for example, the manner making the invention and the manner of using the invention. In most patents, the specification will also include and make reference to drawing figures. Typically, the specification will describe not only the manner in which the invention is solved, but also various options and various variations to the solutions. In many instances, the specification will be divided into several different embodiments, where each embodiment may be slight variations of each other, and where variations that are deemed within the scope of the overall invention can be described.
At the end of the patent is a set of claims which defines the metes and bounds of the invention. In simple terms, the claims appear as a parts list or a series of steps that define the overall scope of the invention. Claims are divided between independent claims and dependent claims that depend (or stem from) independent claims. And, claims can be considered to be analogous to a parts list, as stated above, each claim when read in full describes a plurality of parts (or steps) with an interrelationship between the parts (or steps). With an independent claim, the parts list is identified in full within the bounds of the claim. With a dependent claim, the parts list includes everything in the dependent claim, plus everything that is in the referenced independent claim from which the dependent claim depends.
A patent may include one or more claims, and often includes twenty claims. This is because the basic filing fee covers the first twenty claims and up to three of which can be independent claims). There is a large amount of legal work involved in drafting independent and dependent claims. There are many different legal considerations. Claims are traditionally the most difficult part of a patent to draft and to set forth.