1.  How do I acquire a patent?

Acquiring a Patent can be broken down into five simple steps:
  • Search the Patent Full-Text and Image Database (PatFT) to see if an idea has already been patented.
  • View Fee Schedule for current fees and information related to the patent process.
  • Apply for a patent using the Electronic Filing System (EFS-Web) as a Registered eFiler  or Unregistered eFiler.
  • Check Status of a current patent application or any published application using the Patent Application Information Retrieval (PAIR) system.
  • Maintain a patent by paying maintenance fees using the Revenue Accounting and Management (RAM) system.
There are additional optional steps that you may encounter in the patent process:
  • Appeal the decisions made on your patent application with the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences (BPAI).
  • Assign Ownership of a patent using the Electronic Patent Assignment System (EPAS).

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2. What type of patents are there?

There are three types of patents:
  • Utility patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof;
  • Design patents may be granted to anyone who invents a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture; and
  • Plant patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plant.

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3. How long does it take to register a trademark?

It is difficult to predict exactly how long it will take an application to mature into a registration, because there are so many factors that can affect the process. Generally, an applicant will receive a filing receipt approximately three weeks after filing, which will include the serial number of the application. All future correspondence with the United States Patent and Trademark Office must include this serial number. You should receive a response from the Office within six to seven months from filing the application. However, the total time for an application to be processed may be anywhere from almost a year to several years, depending on the basis for filing, and the legal issues which may arise in the examination of the application.

Current status information may be obtained through the Trademark Applications and Registrations Retrieval (TARR) database at http://tarr.uspto.gov/ or by calling the Trademark Assistance Center at (800) 786-9199. Applicants should check on the status of their pending applications every six months.

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4. What is the difference between TM and the R within the circle ®?

Use of the TM and SM symbols may be governed by local, state, or foreign laws and the laws of a pertinent jurisdiction to identify the marks that a party claims rights to. The federal registration symbol, the R enclosed within a circle, may be used once the mark is actually registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Even though an application is pending, the registration symbol may not be used before the mark has actually become registered.

The federal registration symbol should only be used on goods or services that are the subject of the federal trademark registration.

PLEASE NOTE: Several foreign countries use the letter R enclosed within a circle to indicate that a mark is registered in that country. Use of the symbol by the holder of a foreign registration may be proper.

5. Do I have to register my trademark?

No, but federal registration has several advantages, including notice to the public of the registrant's claim of ownership of the mark, a legal presumption of ownership nationwide, and the exclusive right to use the mark on or in connection with the goods or services set forth in the registration.

The benefits of doing so include:
1. Constructive notice nationwide of the trademark owner's claim.
2. Evidence of ownership of the trademark.
3. Jurisdiction of federal courts may be invoked.
4. Registration can be used as a basis for obtaining registration in foreign countries.
5. Registration may be filed with U.S. Customs Service to prevent importation of infringing foreign goods.

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6.  What is a patent?

A patent for an invention is a grant of property rights by the U.S. Government through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The patent grant excludes others from making, using, or selling the invention in the United States. A utility or plant patent in force on June 8, 1995, is subject to either the 17 year term from grant or the 20 year term from earliest effective U.S. filing date, whichever is longer. A design patent term is 14 years from patent grant. The right conferred by the patent grant extends throughout the United States. The terms "Patent Pending" and "Patent Applied For" are used to inform the public that an application for a patent has been filed. Patent protection does not start until the actual grant of a patent. Marking of an article as patented, when it is not, is illegal and subject to penalty. 

A patent cannot be obtained on a mere idea or suggestion. Patent applications are examined for both technical and legal merit. Prior to filing a patent application, a search of existing patents can be conducted at the  United States Patent and Trademark Office Patent Search Room.

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7.  How do I find out if I need a patent, trademark or a copyright?

Patents, Trademarks, and Copyrights are three types of intellectual property protection. They are different and serve different purposes. Patents protect inventions, and improvements to existing inventions. Trademarks include any word, name, symbol, or device, or any combination, used, or intended to be used in commerce to identify and distinguish the goods of one manufacturer or seller from goods manufactured or sold by others, and to indicate the source of the goods. Service marks include any word, name, symbol, device, or any combination, used, or intended to be used, in commerce, to identify and distinguish the services of one provider from services provided by others, and to indicate the source of the services. Copyrights protect literary, artistic, and musical works.  Copyrights information can be obtained from the U.S. Copyright Office, Library of Congress, Washington, DC 20559 or you may call 202 707-3000.

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8.  How do I apply for a copyright?

www.uspto.gov -or- with LegalZoom

Copyright Office specialists are available to answer questions by phone Monday through Friday (except federal holidays) from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time. Recorded copyright information is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You may contact the Copyright Office at 202-707-3000.

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9.  Do I need a patent attorney or agent to file my patent application?

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) strongly recommends that all prospective applicants retain the services of a registered patent attorney or patent agent to prepare and prosecute their applications. For information on registered patent attorneys and agents in your area, you may visit the USPTO's Office of Enrollment and Discipline Web site at www.uspto.gov/web/offices/dcom/gcounsel/oed.htm. Upon request, the USPTO will send informational materials providing a broad overview of the process of obtaining a United States patent. They will include general requirements and a listing of the Patent and Trademark Depository Libraries.

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10.  Who can I contact if I have questions about applying for a patent or trademark?

You may phone the United States Patent and Trademark Office Contact Center at 800-786-9199 or 571-272-1000.

Additional contact information is available on this site at the USPTO Help page. Additional general information is available at the General USPTO Frequently Asked Questions page.

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