The U.S. Patent System Part 3: How do I apply for a patent or trademark?

About the U.S. Patent system, what is the proper procedure to apply for a patent or trademark.

The U.S. Patent System Today

If you want a patent . . . The procedures for obtaining a patent are simple--in principle. Anyone except an employee of the Patent Office can make his own application with a filing fee of $65; if the patent is granted, there is an issue fee of $100; and printing charges, currently around $70, make for a grand total of $235. (The fee for design patents was given earlier.)

For a trademark, the procedures are parallel, except that the fees are $35 for the registration, and the applicant must show that the mark is being used in commerce. For a patent you must NOT have sold or published the details more than a year before the date of filing; for a trademark you must already have had it in use. There are about 35,000 applications for trademarks a year in the U.S.

You may apply for your own patent, but most people find it better to obtain professional assistance. The Patent Office will provide you--free--with a listing of registered attorneys in your geographical area. (This is excerpted from its directory which covers the whole U.S. and sells for $3.25.) A majority of the patent lawyers also have engineering degrees and most of the agents who make the searches of past patents are engineers or engineering students.

After almost 180 years of experience, the collective wisdom of the U.S. Patent Office recommends:

1. Make sure your invention has something others don't and be sure it is salable.

2. Have a trustworthy witness date and sign a drawing or description of your invention and keep careful records of the steps taken and their dates. Write the Commissioner of Patents, Washington, D.C. 20231, for a copy of the free brochure on the Disclosure Document Program.

3. Search all the patents already issued in the area of your invention. It costs less to make a search than to try for a patent; if your invention is already patented, you save the cost of filing. One of the existing patents may have a better way of doing what you propose--or be more salable. And, seeing what's in the other patents will give you ideas for preparing your own patent application.

4. Study the results of the search. Does your invention really have something new and different? Assuming you got the patent and built your device, would people buy it? Or can they get the equivalent, or better, for less money elsewhere?

5. Prepare and file the patent application. Here, as we said, you need professional advice and representation. But it's still up to you to ensure the application represents what you have in mind.

6. The Patent Officer Examiner will probably find one or more of your claims unpatentable because of prior patents or publications. Keep your representative informed and answer any rejections within the time allowed. Keep at it until you get the patent or the rejection marked "final." (There are appeal procedures, but we'll leave them to the specialists.)

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