Patents: The Six Most Frequently Asked Questions

Innovation, invention, and the process of translating ideas into products and services has been, and remains, a major factor in Minnesota’s economic growth. Indeed, in today’s world that process has even greater importance in light of national productivity and international competitiveness.

The below frequently asked questions are an introduction for inventors and entrepreneurs on how to product their new ideas and the products via patents:

  1. What are the three requirements for patentability?

    • The invention must be new, useful, and non-obvious. Most patent applications are rejected on the ground that the invention would have been obvious to an imaginary person skilled in that particular area of technology who is aware of all printed material and patents that have ever been published relating to that particular field
  2. If I develop a new idea, must I apply for a patent before selling my product?

    • No. Although sales or other public disclosures of your invention prior to filing a U.S. patent application can cause the loss of foreign patent rights, you may file a U.S. patent application within a year of your first sale, offer for sale, or other public disclosure, whichever occurs first.
  3. How long does it take to get a patent after I apply?

    • Although some patents issue within a few months, a typical patent takes between 1 and 4 years to issue, assuming it is ever granted.
  4. Is it possible to obtain a patent for an improvement made on a device or process which has already been patented?

    • Yes. The issues of patentability and infringement are entirely separate. Therefore, one may obtain a patent protection for an improvement to a device, yet, to build the improvement and market it in conjunction with the original device would infringe the original patent
  5. If I find out someone is infringing my patent, what will the Patent Office do to protect my rights?

    1. Nothing. The Patent Office plays no role in discovering or prosecuting infringers of valid U.S. patents. The patent owner is entirely responsible for bearing the burden and the expense of protecting his or her patent rights.
  6. If I develop a new, useful, and non-obvious method of making something that is already known, can I obtain a patent on the method only?

    • Yes. Method or process patents are quite common, especially in the fields of chemistry, materials, and data processing.
  7. How can I contact the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office?

    • Website –
    • Phone – USPTO Contact Center: (800) 786-9199
    • General mailing address for patents – U.S. Patent and Trademark Office P.O Box 1450, Alexandria, VA 22313-1450

CREDIT: The content of this post has been copied or adopted from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development’s “A Guide to Intellectual Property Protection”


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