Homemade Inventions Deserve Patents, Too
Some people still believe that patents can only be issued for exotic and high-tech inventions. However, U.S. patent law does not require that a new device, product or process resemble something from a science fiction movie; a useful modification or improvement of an existing device may also be worthy of patent protection. A patentable device or process can be fairly straightforward in concept. For example, a few years ago, the New York Times featured an article entitled “If These Moms Can’t Find It, They Invent It”, concerning stay-at-home mothers who have invented their own household products. A more recent, 2016 web article, https://www.romper.com/…/14-baby-toddler-products-invented-by-moms-who-clearl… describes 14 products and devices invented by moms. These articles and others highlight the creative ability of people in identifying and responding to a need by inventing it. These moms sensed the need for various products to assist in raising their kids, and when they realized that no such products were on the market, they designed the products themselves, and then set out to learn how to market their inventions to others.
Although these articles do not dwell on issues of patent law, patent law exists to protect the rights of persons who invent new products or processes, by preventing others from making, using, selling or importing their inventions without the permission of the inventor for an extended period of time. By protecting the right of the inventor to try to profit from his or her invention, patent law encourages the invention of new products because it creates a financial incentive for innovation.
As the articles show, an “inventor” need not be a scientist in a laboratory or a team of engineers. Even persons who create conceptually straightforward products or processes, or who come up with novel ways to improve existing products or processes, may be able to obtain patent protection for their inventions. One important caveat is that the invention should not be publicly disclosed until the inventor has filed a patent application on his/her invention. This means that the inventor should not write about his/her invention, publicly display the invention, publicly talk about the invention, sell the invention or offer the invention for sale, until he/she first files a patent application. Most countries in the world do not allow any grace period after any of these occurrences, meaning the inventor’s rights will be lost. In the U.S., the inventor has a one year grace period after public disclosure, use or sale of the invention to file a patent application, but if another person independently files a patent application on the same invention, the inventor’s patent rights will be lost here as well.
Once a patent has been filed, the product or its packaging can be marked with “patent pending.” Marking will maximize the damages a patent owner can recover in an infringement lawsuit. Under the America Invents Act (AIA), which went into effect in 2013, marking can also be accomplished by marking the product or its packaging with a website address, which contains the patent information.
If you have created a new product or process or improved an existing one, a patent attorney can help you determine whether applying for a patent would be worthwhile to protect your work.
© 2017 Dr. Dariush Adli