What is a patent?
A patent is an exclusivity license or title granted by a government authority to an invention for a specific amount of time. It gives sole ownership rights to the patent owner, preventing others from producing or selling the invention without explicit permission or a legal agreement to do so.
You can apply for a patent for an invention at any point during the creation or management of your business - but it's something that can be done when you're also considering how to license your business, or when registering your business.
Who can file a patent?
In the United States, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) states that anyone who “invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent.”
It’s important to note that a patent obtained in the U.S. grants the owner rights within the U.S. only. If you’re looking to expand production or get patent rights in another country, you will need to apply for it within that country
The different types of patents
In the United States, there are three different non-provisional patents available to apply for: design, utility, and plant.
Utility patent: Patent for a new or improved product, process, or machine. Example: A new blender that reduces noise while blending.
Design patent: Patent for new ornamental design for a manufactured product. Example: The design of a piece of jewelry.
Plant patent: Patent for the invention or discovery of a hybrid plant that can reproduce. Example: A unique plant combination never attempted before or a new, undiscovered plant.
There is also another category, known as a provisional application:
Provisional application: This classification gives you a 12-month patent-pending status before you file for a more permanent (nonprovisional) patent. If you don’t submit an application within that year, you will need to resubmit a provisional application or else risk giving someone else the chance to patent your idea.
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How much do patents cost?
The costs of applying and securing a patent can range quite a bit, depending on the type, size of the entity submitting the request, and all sorts of particularities that can arise along the process (e.g. whether you file electronically or via paper, if you need a time extension, and more).
In general, the cost of filing a non-provisional patent is made up of these three components:
Basic filing fee
To give you a more detailed sense of what some of those costs look like, here is the range of basic filing fees the USPTO has set for each patent category:
Utility patent: $0-$300
Design patent: $50-$200
Plant patent: $50-$200
Provisional application: $70-$280
The smaller amount in the range represents the cost for a micro entity - a small business designation created by the USPTO - and the largest amount represents the cost for all other businesses.
The patent application process
Before starting a business and applying for a patent, you must first ensure that your idea or invention does not already have an existing patent or patent application from the Patent and Trademark Office. If a patent application has been submitted, performing a patent search can prevent you from spending needless amounts of money.
Some people may want to consider hiring a patent attorney for the process. While hiring professional help may certainly increase the cost of your patent journey, an attorney will be able to ensure that you’ve covered all your bases before you file your patent application.