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What Is a Patent And How Can You Apply For One?

If you’re reading this, then you’re probably an inventor who’s just come up with a great new product idea, but you’re not sure how to protect it.  Nowadays, knockoff products are a dime a dozen, so the sooner you protect your idea, the better off you’ll be.

Sure, there’s plenty of information available online, but it’s easy to fall down a rabbit hole and get lost in all those small details…

So let’s clear up some of your questions about how to file for a patent to protect your awesome new product.

First Things First: What Is a Patent?

According to our friends at the US Patent and Trademark Office, there are 3 different types of patents: utility patents, design patents, and plant patents, which are defined as follows:

  • Utility patents are granted to inventors of new and useful processes, machines, articles of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof.
  • Design patents may be granted to anyone who invents a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture
  • Plant patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plant

The US Patent and Trademark Office defines a patent as:

A patent for an invention is the grant of a property right to the inventor, issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Generally, the term of a new patent is 20 years from the date on which the application for the patent was filed in the United States or, in special cases, from the date an earlier related application was filed, subject to the payment of maintenance fees. U.S. patent grants are effective only within the United States, U.S. territories, and U.S. possessions. Under certain circumstances, patent term extensions or adjustments may be available.

Pro Tip: Consider Filing For A Provisional Patent Application

Before you commit to 20 years’ worth of protection, you may want to first consider getting a provisional patent application.

What Is A Provisional Patent Application?

To put it simply, a provisional patent application offers inventors one year of protection for their inventions.  During this time, inventors are able to develop, market, and even sell their ideas while being protected by a patent pending status.

Benefits Of Having A Provisional Patent

While a provisional patent application offers only 12 months of protection, having a provisional patent can greatly benefit an inventor, by providing him with protection for one year so that he may fine-tune his product and continue saving enough capital to invest in a utility patent (AKA a non-provisional patent), which will fully protect the invention beyond the 12 months of protection that the provisional patent application provides.

Why Should You Have A Patent?

Essentially, when an inventor is granted a patent, that means he has exclusive rights to whatever it is that he is patenting, typically for 20 years after the date that the patent was filed.  These exclusive rights mean that the patent owner can take legal action against any company or individual who duplicates the patent owner’s protected intellectual property (IP) without permission.

Think of a patent as an investment in your company’s rights to produce and sell the invention you created.

Patents vs. Trademarks vs. Copyrights

You may be asking yourself how a patent differs from trademarks, servicemarks, and/or copyrights.  This is a common question, and it’s easy to mix these up.

We’ve explained what a patent is, so now let’s find out how this is differs from trademarks, servicemarks, and copyrights.  As you’ve probably guessed by now, we can refer to the good old US Patent and Trademark Office to define each of these terms: 

  • A trademark is a word, name, symbol, or device that is used in trade with goods to indicate the source of the goods and to distinguish them from the goods of others.
  • A servicemark is the same as a trademark except that it identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than a product.
  • A copyright is a form of protection provided to the authors of “original works of authorship” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works, both published and unpublished. The 1976 Copyright Act generally gives the owner of copyright the exclusive right to reproduce the copyrighted work, to prepare derivative works, to distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work, to perform the copyrighted work publicly, or to display the copyrighted work publicly.

What You Need To Know

Now that we’ve gone through the official definitions for patents, trademarks, servicemarks, and copyrights, let’s discuss these in layman’s terms.

When it comes to patents, trademarks, servicemarks, and copyrights, the most important thing for you to know right now is if/ when each one can be of use to you.  The easiest way to answer this question is to ask yourself what you’re trying to protect.

If you’re looking to protect some feature of your product, or the entire product itself, then you’ll need to look into getting a patent. 

What Does a Patent Protect And When Do You Need One? 

Essentially, having a patent gives you a competitive edge, a monopoly on your invention, by protecting your idea from being knocked off by competitors.

A patent is what you will use to protect your “secret sauce;” having a patent on your product means that you can take legal action against any company that tries to duplicate your product without your permission.

When To Use A Trademark Or Servicemark

Trademarks, on the other hand, are used to protect things like brand names and logos.  Your trademark rights can prevent other companies from creating names or logos that are similar to yours and could potentially confuse customers.  A servicemark is like a trademark, but instead of protecting a product, servicemarks protect services.

The key difference between a trademark and a patent is that a trademark does not prevent a competing company from producing the same product as yours, while a patent does offer this protection.

When To Use a Copyright

Lastly, we have copyrights, which are similar to trademarks, but whereas a trademark prevents competitors from creating “confusiungly similar” content, a copyright only protects the copyrighted work, and this protection is not extended to similar adaptations of the copyrighted work.

Now that we’ve discussed what a patent is and when to use it, let’s explore how you can actually get a patent.

How To File For A Patent

Step 1: Determine If You Need a Patent

Now that we’ve explained the difference between patents, trademarks, servicemarks, and copyrights, we know that you’ll want a patent to protect your rights over your new product.

Step 2: Identify Which Type Of Patent You Need

Now that you’ve decided to pursue a patent, you’ll need to determine which type of patent makes sense for you.

Do you need to protect a utility, design, or plant?  (Unless you’re a botanist, you’re probably not going to be eligible for a plant patent, so that leaves utility and design patents as your two options.)

If you’re unsure of whether you need a utility or design patent, ask yourself, “What makes my product unique?”  Based on your answer, you may be able to better understand which type of patent best fits your needs.

Step 3: Conduct A Patent Search

Now that we know you have something that could be patented, it’s time to make sure that your IP isn’t already patented.  To do this, you’ll need to conduct a patent search.

A patent search is the thorough research process through which you will determine if your idea has been discovered before. Upon completing your patent search, you will be able to confirm once and for all if your product is indeed eligible for a patent.

As you can imagine, this step can require quite a bit of time and patience, and you may even wish to seek assistance from professionals who deal with patents regularly.

Step 4: Determine Your Application Strategy

While of course it’s not required to hire a patent attorney or a patent agent, inventors who file for patents without the help of an expert could potentially fail to thoroughly protect their intellectual property.

According to the USPTO, “While a patent may be obtained in many cases by persons not skilled in this work, there would be no assurance that the patent obtained would adequately protect the particular invention.”

That being said, if you’re an inventor with no previous experience in dealing with patent laws, it’s best to seek out a reliable patent attorney or patent agent when the time comes to protect your work.

How Do You Know If You’re Ready For A Patent for Your Invention??

Based on what we know so far, patenting your invention is a must—or is it? If you’re still in the early stages of creating your product, are you sure you’re ready to dedicate your precious time and money filing for a patent on a product that hasn’t been introduced to the market yet?  After all, a patent can cost at least several thousand dollars, and there’s always a possibility that your product will evolve based on the initial feedback you receive from your customers.  So, what’s the best course of action?

Step 5: Prepare And Submit Your Initial Application

We can refer to the USPTO guidelines for creating your patent application.  Depending on which type of patent you’re filing for, there are different application processes that you will need to follow.

Once again, it’s best to consult with either a patent agent or a patent attorney when you’re ready to submit your patent application, as you’ll want to make sure your application is thorough.

After you’ve put together a thorough application for your patent, you can finally file for a patent with, you guessed it, the USPTO, and thanks to modern technology, you can even file for your patent online.

Additional Info About Patents

For more information about protecting your invention, catch up on some of the latest Got Invention interviews, where we talk to successful inventors and hear what they have to say about patenting and protecting their own creations.


We’ve covered a lot today, so let’s review!  By now, you know the different types of protection offered by trademarks, servicemarks, copyrights, and patents.  We also discussed the different types of patents, and when you would need each one.  Next, we went over the steps inventors must take in order to file for a patent to protect their IP.

By now, hopefully we’ve answered some of your questions about patenting your invention, and given you the information you need to understand how to go about applying for your patent.  Of course, that doesn’t mean that we expect you to go it alone.


At Inventor Smart, we have a knowledgeable legal team available to help you each step of the way when it comes to protecting your new invention.  Whether you’re interested in conducting a patent search or you’re ready to submit your application for a patent, our team of experienced professionals can help to answer your questions and take your business to the next level.  Schedule an appointment today with one of our patent specialists, and get ready to take your product to the next step!