A patent, in law, is a document that secures for the inventor of a useful product or process, the right to exclude others from making his invention.
The U. S. Constitution authorizes Congress to enact patent legislation and the first law was enacted on April 10, 1790. The U.S. Patent Office was created in 1836 and in 1870 comprehensive legislation substantially established the current American patent law.
Any process or device may be patented if it is novel and useful and if plans and a working model are supplied. In all countries patents are valid for a limited term. During this period of time, an inventor should be able to obtain a reasonable profit and then the public will be able to have free use of the invention.
In the United States, a 17 year term of protection is given to each inventor.
The American law was designed to encourage the maximum inventiveness. Unlike many European countries where the rights to patents are limited to make innovations in industry easier, the United States imposes no tax on the maintenance of patents, nor does it require the patentee to permit the use of his invention on pain of losing his permit.
The U. S. Patent and Trademark office takes an average of two years to issue a patent. This process takes this long because more than 100,000 applications are received each year and each must be examined thoroughly.
In checking each new patent application, the government must be sure that a patent has not already been issued for the same invention.
To avoid a delay in getting a new invention on the market, most manufacturers start to produce it after filing for a patent. The manufacturer then marks the product "Patent Pending" or "Patent Applied For."
This warning is of no genuine legal value, but it discourages imitation.
An inventor is allowed to sell all or part of the rights given to him by a patent. He may also license his rights to a manufacturer. Licensing gives the inventor a fee or a share of the profits, called royalties, or both.
A patent treaty arrangement went into effect in 1883. A total of 79 nations, including Canada and the United States, signed the agreement which gave citizens of the other countries the same rights to obtain a patent as it gives to its own citizens.
A weekly publication called the "Patent Official Gazette" is put out through the Patent and Trademark Office and it indexes patents. Another publication, called the "Trademark Official Gazette," indexes trademarks.
The Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks administrative office was established in 1802. Since 1925, the office has been part of the Department of Commerce.