Patent Law in the United States

Patents have been in the news recently as Apple and other technology companies have used patents to obtain monopoly rights in certain inventions. Although many object to anyone having a monopoly on an idea or invention, such rights have always been a fundamental part of the patent system.

The importance of granting monopolies for new inventions has been recognized in the United States since the adoption of the U.S. Constitution. In Article I, section 8, the U.S. Constitution:

Congress shall have power . . . To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.

Patents in the United States are governed by the Patent Act (35 U.S. Code), which established the United States Patent and Trademark Office (the USPTO). The most common type of patent is a utility patent. Utility patents have a duration of twenty years from the date of filing, but are not enforceable until the day of issuance. Design patents protect ornamental designs. Plant patents protect new varieties of asexually reproducing plants.

To obtain protection under U.S. law, the applicant must submit a patent application to the USPTO, where it will be reviewed by an examiner to determine if the invention is patentable. U.S. law grants to patentees the right to exclude others from making, using, or selling the invention.

The discussion of Patent Law is divided into the following sections:

Software Patents are discussed in their own Software Patent Section of BitLaw.

In addition to these descriptions of patent law, BitLaw contains additional resources relating to patent law: