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If you have created an invention, design or process, you will need to protect it from someone else stealing your idea. The best way to protect your idea from intellectual property theft is with a patent.

But how do you know if what you have created is eligible for this type of intellectual property protection?

Patent basics

According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, a patent for an invention is “the grant of a property right to the inventor, issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office,” and this right includes 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.”

In short, a patent gives you the right to prevent others from stealing or copying your innovation for their own profit.

Requirements for patent eligibility

Although patent law is notoriously nuanced and complex, there are three general tests for patentability:

  1. The invention must be novel: This requirement means that the invention has never existed in the exact form before you filed your patent application. Your invention doesn’t need to be that much different. Even a slight deviation from a prior art invention is sufficient.
  2. The invention must be useful: Most inventions are useful. If you haven’t invented a perpetual motion machine or something that violates Newton’s Laws (e.g., produces more energy than it consumes), then your invention is likely useful.
  3. The invention must have been non-obvious: Your invention has to have been nonobvious to a person having ordinary skill in the art to which the invention pertains at the time the invention was made. One test of obvious is whether the prior art teaches or suggests your claimed invention.

Warning!

You should also know that there are three things you might do to “shoot yourself in the foot” and forever forfeit your patent rights in the United States. If you publish, publicly use or offer your invention for sale, it starts a clock ticking, and you have one year from the day you first do any of these things to file a patent application on your invention. If you miss this date your patent rights will be forever lost.

If you are an inventor who is interested in patenting your invention, you need to understand these requirements for obtaining a patent. The most important thing you can do to protect your intellectual property rights is to work with a team of experienced IP lawyers who can help you through the process.