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By Jessica Jensen

A patent is a right granted by the United States government to an inventor to exclude others from making, using, selling or importing an invention in exchange for public disclosure of the invention’s details once the patent is granted.

There are three broad categories of patents: Utility patents are patents involving a new process, machine, article of manufacture, composition of matter or improvement thereto. An “article of manufacture” is anything that is manufactured (such as a car, printer or light bulb) and “composition of matter” is anything made up of something else (such as plastic or various alloys) – whether created in your home shop or a manufacturing facility. Here’s an example of a utility patent. My Dad had several patents. One of his was improving the design of the EKG machine. Someone else had a patent on the EKG machine, but my Dad had a patent on the improvement. Another type of patent is a design patent which involves any new, original and ornamental design for an article of manufacture. The McDonald’s golden arches are covered by design patent – the arches are essentially a lighted sign (which is an “article of manufacture”) with an ornamental design (golden arches). A utility patent protects how something functions and a design patent protects how it looks. The third type of patent is a plant patent which covers inventions and discoveries of new plants which are asexually reproduced. For example, those hybrid vegetable seeds and plants you buy for your garden are probably covered by a plant patent.

A patent gives you the right to exclude others from making, selling or importing your invention for 20 years retroactive to the date of filing your patent application. It does not give you the right to make, sell or import your invention – you will still have to comply with any applicable laws to produce and market your invention. And like trademarks and copyrights, it’s up to you to enforce your patent rights if someone infringes on your rights.

Jessica Jensen is an attorney and co-owner of the Olympia law firm Jensen Kokis Erwin, www.jensenkokis.com.

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