What are patents?

Patents protect inventions.

"A patent is an exclusive right granted for an invention, which is a product or a process that provides, in general, a new way of doing something, or offers a new technical solution to a problem." - World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)

  • In order to qualify for a patent, an invention must be novel (new), useful, and non-obvious.
  • Patent protection typically lasts 20 years from when the patent is filed. That means no one else can make or sell that invention for 20 years. However, another inventor may iterate on a patented idea, and patent the improvement.
  • There are three types of patents: (1) utility, (2) design, and (3) plant. Most patents granted in the US are utility patents.

This tutorial explains the different parts of a patent.

This short article provides tips for reading a patent efficiently

To learn more about patents, visit USPTO's Patent Basics page.

Why are patents important?

When doing background research for a design project, it's important to find relevant patents because:

  • It's how you can verify that your solution is unique and doesn't infringe on anyone else's intellectual property
  • Much of the technical information disclosed in patents can't be found anywhere else, so you can learn a lot about the current state of the art
  • Seeing how others have solved a problem can inspire ideas for your design