How long does patent protection last? (As of year 2005)
Utility and plant patents are granted for a term which begins with the date of the grant and usually ends 20 years from the date the applications were filed. You must make the timely payment of the appropriate maintenance fees. Design patents last 14 years from the date you are granted the patent. No maintenance fees are required for design patents.Provisional Application
If you have a patentable invention, filing a provisional patent application can provide temporary protection of your intellectual property rights while you develop your idea further or seek funding. Provisional applications have a lower fee than non-provisional applications -- and you don't have to make formal claims or provide the same level of detail about your invention. Additionally, provisional applicants don't have to wait for the USPTO to examine the contents of the application. Your provisional application is valid 12 months from the date you file it -- and you can use the phrase "patent pending" in connection with your invention during that time.How To Qualify for a Patent
Difficulty: Hard - Time Required: Variable - Ask yourself if your invention can be adequately described or enabled -- can someone in the same field make and use it? Can you make your claim to the invention in clear and definite terms? A patent cannot be obtained upon a mere idea or suggestion and to obtain a patent, you need to be able to describe all aspects of your invention.What Is A Patent?
It is just like a property right for the inventor. All U.S. patents are issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office or USPTO. Most patents last for twenty years. The twenty years begins on the date the application for a non-provisional or provisional patent was first filed. A patent gives you the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling your invention in the United States or importing your invention into the United States. Once a patent is issued, it becomes your responsibility to enforce the patent, the USPTO will not enforce your rights for you. From the USPTO you are only granted rights that are honored within the United States, U.S. territories, and U.S. possessions.Patent Attorney Directed Search
Going through a lawyer to search patents will cost the least amount of time and the most money. Patent attorneys employ professional researchers. You hire the attorney, and the attorney gets someone to conduct the search. Then the attorney adds a mark-up to the search bill, sometimes as much as several hundred percent. Many lawyers cloak this in the term handling fee. To save this extra expense, some inventors hire their own researcher or do the search themselves. Most patent attorneys don't render an opinion based on a search conducted by anyone other than their own searcher. However, you can tell a lawyer that if they won't accept the work of your search firm, or searches done by yourself, you will go elsewhere where such work would be acceptable. If you're paying the bills, and you're willing to take the risk, the lawyer shouldn't have a problem. Now, if the search results show no prior art in my field of invention, you don't need an attorney to tell me the coast is clear. Conversely, if a search reveals prior art that's spot on your invention, you don't need an attorney to tell me my idea has been done before. You might, on the other hand, hire an attorney to help end-run an existing patent through the use of language in the application. If you hire a lawyer, get a quote in advance. The fee will be based on how all-encompassing you want the search to be.