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Intellectual Property: Patents, Trademarks, and Copyright: Patents

  Michael Jackson's 1993 patent for "Anti-Gravity Shoes"


A patent is the grant of property by the U.S. Government to an inventor for a product via the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. There are different types of patents and each will warrant a specified, standardized multi-year term in which the inventor can continue to claim ownership.

Who can File for a Patent?

Only the inventor, or an individual assigned by the inventor, may apply for a patent with limited exceptions. For instance, if the inventor has passed away, is incapacitated, is a minor, or refuses to apply, an assigned individual, guardian, or executor may apply.

If more than one person created the invention together, they may apply for the patent as a joint inventor. This does not apply to individuals who made only a monetary contribution.

United States Patent and Trademark Office employees are prohibited from applying for or obtaining a patent.

Patent Law

Under Article I, Section 8 of the constitution, Congress has the power to promote and defend the exclusive rights of individuals who invent materials or resources by enacting laws to secure those rights for a specific and standardized time period. Congress has created patent laws regarding revisions and, most recently, the American Inventors Protection Act of 1999 which further protects the exclusive rights of inventors.

Patent law is regarding the means by which a patent is obtained and what is required of the inventor. the United States Patent and Trademark Office administers all patent law.

Classification Search

The patent classification scheme is based on the content of the patent by technical fields. The reasoning for this is because searching patents with keywords is less accurate in that it doesn't account for synonyms or alternate spellings. While Boolean searching might solve this issue, it would be only a partial advantage as the database of patents is so expansive. Also, the patent documents themselves don't often contain a lot of text, the documents are focused on images, so using a search system based on words is not advantageous.

Classification symbols are structured as follows:

  • class, e.g. A63
  • subclass, e.g. A63B
  • group (main group), e.g. A63B49
  • subgroup, e.g A63B49/02
  • CPC subgroup, e.g. A63B49/028
  • CPC 2000 series subgroup, e.g. A63B2049/0282

Classification symbols are not case-sensitive. There are no spaces or blanks. Boolean search functions like wildcards do not work when searching for patents.

Cooperative Patent Classification

The Cooperative Patent Classification system began in 2013, and it's purpose is to revise and reclassify documents to promote a smarter and more efficient search system. This system is developed and carried out by both the EPO and the USPTO. The CPC is now the EPO's primary classification schema. The primary difference between the CPC and the IPC is that there is a section entitled the "y section" which is used for noting emerging technologies.

The CPC website has more information

Types of Patents

Utility Patent

Utility patents are those regarding the invention of a machine or a process. An example of a utility patent would be a part of a machine, or a component of an engine.

Design Patent

Design patents regard ornamentation or decorative ways to repurpose an exsiting type of item. For instance, Apple has a design patent on its iconic iPod look, but it does not have a patent on an mp3 player or a phone.

Plant Patent

Plant patents are strictly regarding inventions or discoveries of vegetation.