WHAT CAN BE PATENTED
The patent law specifies the general field of subject matter that can be patented and the conditions under which a patent may be obtained.
In the language of the statute, any person who invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent, subject to the conditions and requirements of the law. The word process is defined by law as a process, act or method, and primarily includes industrial or technical processes. The term machine used in the statute needs no explanation. The term manufacture refers to articles which are made, and includes all manufactured articles. The term composition of matter relates to chemical compositions and may include mixtures of ingredients as well as new chemical compounds. These classes of subject matter taken together include practically everything which is made by man and the processes for making the products.
The patent law specifies that the subject matter must be useful. The term useful in this connection refers to the condition that the subject matter has a useful purpose and also includes operativeness, that is, a machine which will not operate to perform the intended purpose would not be called useful, and therefore would not be granted a patent.
Interpretations of the statute by the courts have defined the limits of the field of subject matter which can be patented, thus it has been held that the laws of nature, physical phenomena and abstract ideas are not patentable subject matter.
A patent cannot be obtained upon a mere idea or suggestion. The patent is granted upon the new machine, manufacture, etc., as has been said, and not upon the idea or suggestion of the new machine. A complete description of the actual machine or other subject matter for which a patent is sought is required.
NATURE OF PATENT AND PATENT RIGHTS
The patent is issued in the name of the United States under the seal of the Patent and Trademark Office, and is either signed by the Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks or has his name written thereon and attested by an Office official. The patent contains a grant to the patentee, and a printed copy of the specification and drawing is annexed to the patent and forms a part of it. The grant confers "the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States" and its territories and possessions for which the term of the patent shall be 20 years from the date on which the application for the patent was filed in the United States or , if the application contains a specific reference to an earlier filed application under 35 U.S.C. 120, 121 or 365(c), from the date of the earliest such application was filed, and subject to the payment of maintenance fees as provided by law.
The exact nature of the right conferred must be carefully distinguished, and the key is in the words "right to exclude" in the phrase just quoted. The patent does not grant the right to make, use, offer for sale or sell or import the invention but only grants the exclusive nature of the right. Any person is ordinarily free to make, use, offer for sale or sell or import anything he/she pleases, and a grant from the Government is not necessary. The patent only grants the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale or selling or importing the invention. Since the patent does not grant the right to make, use, offer for sale, or sell, or import the invention, the patentee's own right to do so is dependent upon the rights of others and whatever general laws might be applicable. A patentee, merely because he/she has received a patent for an invention, is not thereby authorized to make, use, offer for sale, or sell, or import the invention if doing so would violate any law. An inventor of a new automobile who has obtained a patent thereon would not be entitled to use the patented automobile in violation of the laws of a State requiring a license, nor may a patentee sell an article, the sale of which may be forbidden by a law, merely because a patent has been obtained.
Neither may a patentee make, use, offer for sale, or sell, or import his/her own invention if doing so would infringe the prior rights of others. A patentee may not violate the Federal antitrust laws,such as by resale price agreements or entering into combination in restraints of trade, or the pure food and drug laws, by virtue of having a patent. Ordinarily there is nothing which prohibits a patentee from making, using, offering for sale, or selling, or importing his/her own invention, unless he/she thereby infringes another's patent which is still in force. The term of the patent shall be 20 years from the date on which the application for the patent was filed in the United States or, if the application contains a specific reference to an earlier filed application under 35 U.S.C. 120, 121 or 365(c), from the date of the earliest such application was filed, and subject to the payment of maintenance fees as provided by law. A maintenance fee is due 3 ½, 7 ½ and 11 ½ years after the original grant for all patents issuing from the applications filed on and after December 12, 1980. The maintenance fee must be paid at the stipulated times to maintain the patent in force. After the patent has expired anyone may make, use, offer for sale or sell or import the invention without permission of the patentee, provided that matter covered by other unexpired patents is not used. The terms may be extended for certain pharmaceuticals and for certain circumstances as provided by law.
TREATIES AND FOREIGN PATENTS
Since the rights granted by a United States patent extend only throughout the territory of the United States and have no effect in a foreign country, an inventor who wishes patent protection in other countries must apply for a patent in each of the other countries or in regional patent offices. Almost every country has its own patent law, and a person desiring a patent in a particular country must make an application for patent in that country, in accordance with the requirements of that country.
The laws of many countries differ in various respects from the patent law of the United States. In most foreign countries, publication of the invention before the date of the application will bar the right to a patent. In most foreign countries maintenance fees are required. Most foreign countries require that the patented invention must be manufactured in that country after a certain period, usually three years. If there is no manufacture within this period, the patent may be void in some countries, although in most countries the patent may be subject to the grant of compulsory licenses to any person who may apply for a license.
There is a treaty relating to patents which is adhered to by 140 countries, including the United States, and is known as the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property. It provides that each country guarantees to the citizens of the other countries the same rights in patent and trademark matters that it gives to its own citizens. The treaty also provides for the right of priority in the case of patents, trademarks and industrial designs (design patents). This right means that, on the basis of a regular first application filed in one of the member countries, the applicant may, within a certain period of time, apply for protection in all the other member countries. These later applications will then be regarded as if they had been filed on the same day as the first application. Thus, these later applicants will have priority over applications for the same invention which may have been filed during the same period of time by other persons. Moreover, these later applications, being based on the first application, will not be invalidated by any acts accomplished in the interval, such as, for example, publication or exploitation of the invention, the sale of copies of the design, or use of the trademark. The period of time mentioned above, within which the subsequent applications may be filed in the other countries, is 12 months in the case of first applications for patent and six months in the case of industrial designs and trademarks.
Another treaty, known as the Patent Cooperation Treaty, was negotiated at a diplomatic conference in Washington, D.C., in June of 1970. The treaty came into force on January 24, 1978, and is presently adhered to by over 90 countries, including the United States. The treaty facilitates the filing of applications for patent on the same invention in member countries by providing, among other things, for centralized filing procedures and a standardized application format.
The timely filing of an international application affords applicants an international filing date in each country which is designated in the international application and provides (1) a search of the invention and (2) a later time period within which the national applications for patent must be filed.
A number of patent attorneys specialize in obtaining patents in foreign countries. In general, an inventor should be satisfied that he/she could make some profit from foreign patents or that there is some particular reason for obtaining them, before he/she attempts to apply for foreign patents.
Under United States law it is necessary, in the case of inventions made in the United States, to obtain a license from the Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks before applying for a patent in a foreign country. Such a license is required if the foreign application is to be filed before an application is filed in the United States or before the expiration of six months from the filing of an application in the United States. The filing of an application for patent constitutes the request for a license and the granting or denial of such request is indicated in the filing receipt mailed to each applicant. After six months from the United States filing, a license is not required unless the invention has been ordered to be kept secret. If the invention has been ordered to be kept secret, the consent to the filing abroad must be obtained from the Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks during the period the order of secrecy is in effect.
International Protection of Industrial Property
Industrial property deals principally with the protection of inventions, marks (trademarks and service marks) and industrial designs, and the repression of unfair competition.
The three subjects first mentioned have certain features in common inasmuch as protection is granted for inventions, marks and industrial designs in the form of exclusive rights of exploitation. The repression of unfair competition is not concerned with exclusive rights, but is directed against acts of competition contrary to honest practices in industrial or commercial matters, for example, in relation to undisclosed information (trade secrets).
An invention is a novel idea which permits in practice the solution of a specific problem in the field of technology. Under most legislations concerning inventions, the idea, in order to be protected by law ("patentable"), must be new in the sense that it has not already been published or publicly used; it must be non-obvious ("involve an inventive step") in the sense that it would not have occurred to any specialist in the particular industrial field, had such a specialist been asked to find a solution to the particular problem; and it must be capable of industrial application in the sense that it can be industrially manufactured or used.
A patent is a document, issued by a government office, which describes the invention and creates a legal situation in which the patented invention can normally only be exploited (made, used, sold, imported) by, or with the authorization of, the patentee. The protection of inventions is limited in time (generally 20 years from the filing date of the application for the grant of a patent).
The repression of unfair competition is directed against acts or practices, in the course of trade or business, that are contrary to honest practices, including, in particular:
- acts which may cause confusion with the products or services, or the industrial or commercial activities, of an enterprise;
- false allegations which may discredit the products or services, or the industrial or commercial activities, of an enterprise;
- indications or allegations which may mislead the public, in particular as to the manufacturing process of a product or as to the quality, quantity or other characteristics of products or services;
- acts in respect of unlawful acquisition, disclosure or use of trade secrets;
- acts causing a dilution or other damage to the distinctive power of another's mark or taking undue advantage of the goodwill or reputation of another's enterprise.
Protection of industrial property is not an end in itself: it is a means to encourage creative activity, industrialization, investment and honest trade. All this is designed to contribute to more safety and comfort, less poverty and more beauty, in the lives of men.