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Frequently Asked Questions

What is a patent?

A patent is a limited duration property right relating to an invention, granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office in exchange for public disclosure of the invention. 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. Non-provisional patents have a 20-year lifetime from their filing date.

What can be patented?

Processes and Methods
Article of manufacture (products)
Composition of matter
Improvement of any of the above
Ornamental Designs
Asexually reproduced plant varieties

What can't be patented?

Laws of nature
Physical phenomena
Abstract ideas
Literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works

How do I know if my invention is patentable?
Your invention must fit one of the categories mentioned in What can be patented? Above and must be novel (new) and non-obvious (not easily discovered by combining known technology). A skilled patent attorney can help you search the existing landscape of technology and art relating to your invention to help you approximate the patentability of your invention.
How do I apply for a patent?
Inventors or their patent attorneys may apply for one of two types of utility patent applications: (1) A nonprovisional application, which begins the examination process and may lead to a patent having a 20 year life and (2) A provisional application, which establishes a filing date but does not begin the examination process and has a 12 month lifetime. Ask your patent attorney which application type is best for you. Applications are submitted electronically directly to the USPTO.
Do I need a patent attorney or agent to file my patent application?

The USPTO strongly recommends that all prospective applicants retain the services of a registered patent attorney or patent agent to prepare and prosecute their applications. Inventors may file on their own, however, recent data established that nearly 75% of self-filing applicants (pro se applicants) abandon their patent applications – often unintentionally! Working with a skilled patent attorney considerably increases chances of success at the USPTO.

What happens after my patent attorney files my patent?

Patent applications are examined by an Examiner at the USPTO to ensure the submission meets all formal requirements and is novel and non-obvious. USPTO Examiner will rely on existing patents, publications, etc. to reject the application for a number of reasons including Novelty, Non-Obviousness, and others. Your Patent Attorney will argue on behalf of patentability against the Examiner’s assertions to overcome rejections. Rejections from the USPTO are common, and according to a 2015 study, approximately 89% of patents filed receive at least one Office action with a rejection from the USPTO. Your patent attorney will speak with you before filing anything at the USPTO and keep you informed of all your options to best pursue patentability.

How much does a patent cost?

Costs will vary depending on your patent attorney but can range from $5,000-$20,000 depending on many factors including complexity of the invention, the number of rejections received from the USPTO, the size and number of patents you file, and the number of countries in which you file a patent.

Is there a worldwide patent?

No. Patents rights are territorial rights and are only applicable in the country or region in which a patent has been filed and granted. Applicants may file individual patent applications in many countries simultaneously to increase protection.

How do I enforce my patent?

Patent rights are enforced by courts when action is taken by the patent owner. Patent owners must monitor, identify, and take action against patent infringers on their own – the USPTO does not monitor or identify infringers.


¹ Gaudry KS (2012) The Lone Inventor: Low Success Rates and Common Errors Associated with Pro-Se Patent Applications. PLoS ONE 7(3): e33141.

² Extended Year Set – All Technologies ( Utility Patents ) Report

³ Michael Carley, Deepak Hegde & Alan Marco, What is the Probability of Receiving a U.S. Patent?, 17 Yale J.L. & Tech (2015). Available at:

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Mean what You Say, Say what you Mean

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