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How Are Design Patents Different From Other Patents?

Design patents are a relatively recent type of patent that protects non-utility inventions, such as the creative or decorative elements of manufactured items.  Design patents usually apply to design elements of a thing that are non-functional, and thus not eligible for a utility patent, but that also wouldn’t necessarily be eligible for copyright or trademark protection.  In some cases, designs that may be eligible for design patent may also be eligible for copyright or trademark protection as well, but the design patent adds an extra layer of protection for the inventor seeking damages for infringement of the design. A design patent is frequently a good idea if you’ve invented a new design for some item that is distinctive and, in some way, helps distinguish the item as being uniquely made by you or your business.  They are often a way of gaining some measure of patent protection for items that otherwise can’t themselves be patented.  For example, furnishings such as bed frames and wardrobes can’t themselves be patented, but unique ornamentation on those furnishings could be the subject of a design patent.  Similarly, athletic shoes can’t be patented, but you could get a design patent for a unique pattern of treads on the rubber soles of athletic shoes.  Design patents don’t require a specification or claims as for utility patents.  The drawings of the design patent application essentially function as both the description and claims.  Since there are no written descriptions for the design, the drawings must be carefully crafted to depict both the design and the context in...

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What Do I Need to Apply for a Patent?

Most patent applications are for utility patents - inventions that have some functional use - and these applications usually have a specification, drawings, and claims. The specification is a legally complete description of the invention you are claiming.  The specification needs to fully describe all aspects of the invention that you’re claiming protection for and needs to sufficiently describe the application so that another person, who has a base-level understanding of the relevant technological art field, could replicate and make the invention.  The specification doesn’t have to be a technical white-paper or a thorough dissertation on every possible aspect of the invention – it just has to meet the legally required standards for disclosure of the invention. Drawings go hand-in-hand with the specification. Drawings are usually required to help the patent examiner understand the invention being described in the specification, and the specification needs to particularly describe what is depicted in the drawings. The claims, however, are the critical component.  Claims define the legal bounds of what you are claiming is your patentable invention.  They are somewhat like a fence around physical property so that anything inside the “fence” is your claimed patent territory, and anything outside the fence is not part of your claimed invention.  When someone steps over your fence into your property, they’re trespassing or “infringing” on your land.  When someone makes an invention that falls squarely within your claims, they’re infringing on your patent. The claims are also the most important part of the application for getting a patent grant.  The claims are the first thing the patent examiner looks at to...

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What Can I Get Patented?

Patents can generally be awarded for any novel and useful invention or improvement. “Useful” is a fairly minimal standard, and largely boils down to whether or not someone could read the patent and actually make the invention the patent discloses – it could be practically useless in real life, but so long as it’s possible to make and use the thing, it’s “useful.”  “Novel” is a legal definition found in the country’s patent laws and is also a fairly minimal standard.  Novelty simply requires that the invention, exactly as disclosed in your patent application, is not fully contained in a single published document, whether that’s another patent document, a journal article, a technical white paper or other documents. Patentable inventions can range from completely new and never-before-seen technology to a simple improvement in a well-known machine.  Patents can be granted for physical inventions, production processes, chemical compounds, software that improves computer functioning, and more. But it turns out some inventions don’t even have to be useful – the patent office also grants patents on non-utility designs.  A design patent can be granted for a new decorative and non-functional design, such as the “look” of a crystal lamp or of a hardwood furniture piece, and this helps prevent others from copying your unique design for your products. So why is it usually so hard to get a patent? Most patent applications fail because they fail the “obviousness” test.  Your exact invention may well not have ever been made or invented before, but it may also be an obvious variation...

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