Rights, granted to inventors by the federal government, pursuant to its power under Article I, Section 8, Clause 8, of the U.S. Constitution, that permit them to exclude others from making, using, or selling an invention for a definite, or restricted, period of time.
The US patent system is designed to encourage inventions that are useful to society by granting inventors the absolute right to exclude all others from using or profiting from their invention for a limited time, in exchange for disclosing the details of the invention to the public. Once a patent has expired, the public then has the right to make, use, or sell the invention.
Once a patent is granted, it is regarded as the Personal Property of the inventor. An inventor's property rights in an invention itself are freely transferable and assignable. Often employees who invent something in the course and scope of their employment transfer and assign their property rights in the invention to their employer. In addition, a patent holder, or patentee, can grant a license to another to use the invention in exchange for payment or a royalty.
Inventors are not required to participate in the patent system, and they can elect instead to try to keep their invention a trade secret. However, if the inventor begins to sell his or her invention or allows the public to use it, others can study the invention and create impostor products. If this happens, the original inventor has no protection because he or she did not obtain a patent.
There are three types of patents:
(1) Design Patents are granted to protect a unique appearance or design of an article of manufacture, whether it is surface ornamentation or the overall configuration of an object.
(2) Plant Patents are granted for the invention and asexual reproduction of a new and distinct variety of plant, including mutants and hybrids
(3) Utility Patents are perhaps the most familiar, applying to machines, chemicals, and processes.