Today I was able to sit down with Pete Tormey, founder of Action Patents. Pete is a registered patent agent who specializes in providing patents for Software, Electronics, Life Science Instrumentation and Business Methods. From blogs to entrepreneurial events, patents are always a controversial topic. This is why I took the opportunity to speak with an expert. Below are the questions and answers from our conversation.
Q: What is the difference between a patent and a trademark?
A patent protects an inventor for the production or sale of a new useful invention. Whereas a trademark is protection for a distinctive name, symbol, motto or emblem that identifies a product.
Q: If I were to hire a patent practitioner, what are three specific things I can include in my description to make your job easier and reduce costs?
The most important thing is to move beyond just the new idea so that you can explain to the patent prosecutor how to make and use the invention. Secondly provide at least one good sketch illustrating the invention, and finally provide a good description of the technical background and need for the invention. This helps the patent practitioner explain the purpose and value to the patent examiner.
Q: Looking beyond the value in a legal action, how else can patents help me?
A patent has marketing value too. For example customers may view patented technology as superior to a competitor’s product which can greatly help your sales process. Also, for startup companies, getting investment capital may be dependent on having an idea that’s patentable. Patents provide your company with the ability to show people what you do that no one else does. That is a significant competitive advantage.
Q: I have heard people say that a patent is only as strong as the dollars you have to back it, what are your thoughts?
Most patents never go through an entire legal challenge. Simply having a patent may be sufficient because your competition does not want an expensive court battle either. If patenting your technology prevents your competitor from attacking you directly in the market, the patent has done its job without the cost of a court battle.
Q: I have also heard people say that the patent is only as strong as the reputation of the patent practitioner who filed it, is this true?
It’s not the reputation that matters, but the technical knowledge and experience in that industry that have the greatest effect. Most inventors are not really aware of the person who actually drafts the patent. Large firms often use technical writers. The practitioner needs to clearly articulate the invention and draft solid claims to it.
Q: Who may apply for a U.S. Patent?
A patent may be granted to the inventor or discoverer of any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, or on any distinct and new variety of plant, which is asexually reproduced, or on any new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture.
Q: On what subject matter may a patent not be granted?
A patent may not be granted on a useless device, on printed matter, on an improvement in a device which would be obvious to a person skilled in the art, or on a machine which is not useful such as an alleged perpetual motion machine. A patent may also not be granted for an idea or abstraction such as a mathematical formula.
Q: If one person furnishes the ideas for invention and another person employs him or finances his experimentation, should the patent application be filed by them jointly?
No. The application should be signed by the true inventor and filed in his or her name.
Q: Is there any danger that the Patent and Trademark Office will give others information contained in my application while it is pending?
All patent applications are maintained in the strictest secrecy until the patent is issued or the application is published. Publication is limited to only certain applications. After the patent is issued, however, the file containing the application and all correspondence leading up to issuance of the patent is made available in the files information room for inspection by anyone, and copies of these files may be purchased from the Patent Office.
Q: I have made some changes in my invention after the filing of my patent application documents. May I amend my patent application by adding a description and illustration of these features?
No. The law provides that new matter cannot be introduced into the disclosure of a patent application. However, there is a procedure called “continuation-in-part application” that allows the patent applicant to file a new application which contains new subject matter to replace or supplement the original. You should notify your patent agent immediately of any changes you make in your invention.
Q: While on vacation last summer, I found an article on sale which has not yet been introduced into the U.S. or patented or described in the U.S. May I get a U.S. patent on this invention?
No. According to the law, a U.S. Patent can only be obtained by the true inventor, not by one who learns of the invention of another.
Q: Does the Patent and Trademark Office control the fees charged by patent agents for their services?
No. The Office maintains a roster of registered patent practitioners, but the Office does not control fees, nor will the Office help you select a patent agent.
Q: If I obtain a patent on my invention, will that protect me against claims of others who say that I am infringing their patents?
No. There may be a patent of a more basic nature on which your invention is an improvement. If your invention is a detailed refinement or feature of such a basically protected invention, you may not use it without the consent of the patentee, just as no one will have the right to use your patented improvements without your consent.
Q: What do the terms “patent pending” and “patent applied for” mean?
They are used by a manufacturer or seller of an article to inform the public that an application for patent on that article is on file in the Patent and Trademark Office. The law imposes a fine on those who use these terms falsely to deceive the public.
Q: Can an inventor sell his right to a patent or patent application to someone else?
Yes. The inventor can sell all or any part of his interest in the patent application or the patent.
Q: Does a U.S. patent protect my invention in other countries?
No. The U.S. patent protects your invention only in this country. If you wish to protect your invention in foreign countries, you must file an application in the patent office of each country within the time limit permitted by law. Check with your patent agent about costs before you decide to file in foreign countries.
Pete has a great website with a lot of practical advice. One question we get a lot “is what does a patent cost?” Pete has a great “Patent Fees” section that addresses this directly
Action Patents charges $100 per hour for patent preparation and prosecution. There are additional costs such as filing fees and possibly drawing fees. The cost of a typical patent application generally runs from $3,000 for simple inventions to over $7,000 for complex business methods and software inventions.
The legal fees vary depending upon the technical complexity of the subject matter, the quality of the written description provided by the inventor, and the number of revisions required to accurately describe your invention. If you provide a good written description of the invention, your legal fees are less. Government fees are subject to change.
Once an application is filed, there are other costs incurred while the patent is pending. The United States Patent and Trademark Office will issue an “Office Action” setting forth their findings on patentability and may require the Applicant to file a response. After one or two responses outstanding issues are usually resolved. Each response generally incurs about $1,000 in legal fees. After the patent is allowed there is an issue fee of $700 plus a $200 preparation fee.
Once a patent issues there are maintenance fees at 3 1/2, 7 1/2, and 11 1/2 years. They are presently $450, $1,150 and $1,900 respectively for small entities. The maintenance fees are subject to change by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.