A patent is an intellectual property right granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. There are three types of patents available to an inventor: utility, design and plant patents. To obtain any of these patents, the inventor must fill out and submit a lengthy application along with an application fee. While patenting an invention is not mandatory, it has certain advantages.
Acquiring a patent grants the owner of the patent the right to exclude others from making, using or selling the patented invention in the United States or importing the invention into the United States. Exclusivity allows the inventor to reap the monetary and non-monetary advantages of reducing the number of competitors in the market. Keep in mind that utility and plant patents expire 20 years from the date of the grant, assuming you pay the maintenance fees. Design patents expire 14 years from the date of the grant, and there are no maintenance fees.
Improve Your Image
Inventors often seek investors to help supply the money necessary to market and manufacture their invention. Registering your invention with the Patent and Trademark Office shows potential investors that you are serious and organized and that you believe in your invention. Obtaining a patent also demonstrates a certain degree of knowledge, which can be particularly beneficial if you are looking for business partners.
You may not want to manufacture, market, or otherwise exploit the invention yourself. Patenting the invention allows you to license the invention to other parties in exchange for royalty payments. After all, no company will pay you for an invention that they could legally exploit without a license. Several individuals and companies rely on licensing alone as their source of income.
Improve Negotiating Position
Often, companies that create inventions engage in cross-licensing. This means that company A exchanges the patent rights it holds to an invention for the patent rights to an invention held by company B. Having a strong patent portfolio improves your negotiating position, as you are more likely to have patents that the other company finds desirable.
While there are several reasons to patent an invention, there also are several reasons you may want to avoid getting a patent. An example is when you invent something for a transient market. Obtaining a patent takes time (generally two to 10 years after submitting the application). Thus, the invention may be useless by the time patent protection is granted. Moreover, patent applications can be costly, and obtaining patent protection may not be feasible or financially wise for many inventors.