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What is a patent?

Individuals, corporations and companies offering products or services often devote precious time and financial resources to research and development. This is often especially true of companies that develop and sell products related to the medical and technology industries.

When a product is developed, companies must take steps to protect against competitors using the same process or design. To ensure for the protection of this type of intellectual property, companies must apply for a patent.

There are three major types of patents that are granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office; utility patents, design patents and plant patents. For most companies, their proprietary business services and products are covered by utility and design patents.

In general a utility patent covers things related to a product’s use and function, whereas a design patent relates to how a product looks. When a company is granted a patent, it obtains exclusive rights over those intellectual and material components protected by the patent. This includes barring competitors from “making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention” in the U.S.

A patent’s duration of protection is typically 20 years after which time it and all its protections expire, thereby allowing other individuals and companies to “make, use, sell, or import,” previously protected processes, design components and products.

In cases where an individual or company has obtained a patent and has reason to believe that their exclusive rights protected under that patent have been breached, legal action may be appropriate. In our next blog post, we’ll continue to explore the issue of patents and patent infringement.

Source:, “Patents,” 2014