Q: What is a patent?
A patent for an invention is the grant of a property right to the inventor, issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). 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 some cases, from the date an earlier related application was filed.

Q: What are the different types of patents?
There are three types of patent:
  1. Utility patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof;
  2. Design patents may be granted to anyone who invents a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture; and
  3. Plant patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plant.

Q: What does it take to get and maintain a patent for an invention in the US?
The process can be broken down into five steps:
  1. Search the USPTO Patent Database to see if an idea has already been patented. While this step is optional, it would make no sense to spend the money to apply for a patent unless there is a good chance that your "new" invention is truly new and will be judged patentable.
  2. Apply for a patent with the USPTO, paying all required pre-grant fees.
  3. While your application is pending, reply to any USPTO inquiries in a timely fashion.
  4. Upon grant of patent, pay patent grant fee.
  5. For as long as you want to maintain your patent, pay the patent maintenance fees at 3 years, 7 years, and 11 years.

Q: Once the USPTO grants me a patent for my invention, is my invention protected everywhere?
No, a USPTO patent protects your invention in the United States, US Territories, and US possessions.

Q: How do I protect my invention in other countries?
You must apply for patents in each country in which you want protection for your invention.

Q: Is this as complicated as it sounds?
Not really, since you may, at the time you apply for the patent of your invention in the USPTO, submit essentially the same application for consideration to the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) patent examination authority to determine if your invention will most likely be patentable in PCT member countries, which include most, but not all, industrial nations of the world.

Q: So if the PCT approves my application, will all the PCT member countries each grant me a patent for my invention?
Maybe. If your application is found to meet the requirements of the PCT, you still have to apply to each country's patent authority individually to get patent protection within each country. The PCT's favorable opinion of your application for patent will be persuasive, but not binding, on the member countries' patent authorities.

Q: How much will this cost?
It depends on how many countries you apply to. Each country has its own fee schedule for filing and maintenance, your application must be translated into the official language of the filing country, and most countries require patent holders from foreign countries to engage counsel in the patenting country in order to pay fees.

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