The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce. The role of the USPTO is to grant patents for the protection of inventions and to register trademarks. It serves the interests of inventors and businesses with respect to their inventions and corporate products, and service identifications.
A patent cannot be obtained upon a mere idea or suggestion. A patent requires at least a proof of concept, which means complete descriptions and illustrations.
A patent is a limited duration property right relating to an invention, granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office in exchange for public disclosure of the invention. Generally, the term of a new patent is 20 years from the date the application for the patent was filed. Under certain circumstances, patent term extensions or adjustments may be available.
Patents give people: “the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling” the invention in the United States or “importing” the invention into the United States. Once a patent is issued, the patentee must enforce the patent without aid of the USPTO.
There are three types of patents:
1) Utility patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof;
2) Design patents may be granted to anyone who invents a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture; and
3) Plant patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plant.
Copyright is a form of protection provided to the authors of "original works of authorship" including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works, both published and unpublished. The 1976 Copyright Act generally gives the owner of copyright the exclusive right to reproduce the copyrighted work, to prepare derivative works, to distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work, to perform the copyrighted work publicly, or to display the copyrighted work publicly.
The copyright protects the form of expression rather than the subject matter of the writing. For example, a description of a machine could be copyrighted, but this would only prevent others from copying the description; it would not prevent others from writing a description of their own or from making and using the machine. Copyrights are registered by the U.S. Copyright Office, a department of the Library of Congress.
For more in-depth information on Copyright, see our research guide on Copyright by Mary Jo DeJoice.
A trademark is a word, name, symbol, or device that is used to indicate the source of goods and to distinguish them from the goods of other sources. A servicemark is the same as a trademark except that it identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than a product. The terms “trademark” and “mark” are commonly used to refer to both trademarks and servicemarks.
Trademark rights may be used to prevent others from using a confusingly similar mark, but not to prevent others from making the same goods or from selling the same goods or services under a clearly different mark. Trademarks that are used in interstate or foreign commerce may be registered with the USPTO. The registration procedure for trademarks and general information concerning trademarks can be found at basic facts about Trademarks.