A patent gives an inventor or company an exclusive privilege of using a certain process or making, using and selling a specific product or device for a specified period of time within the United States. There are three types of patents issued from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office:
Utility and plant patents are granted for a term which begins on the date of the grant and ends 20 years from the date the patent application was first filed. Design patents are granted for a term of 14 years from the date of the grant. A patent holder loses exclusive rights to the invention when the term expires or when periodic maintenance fees are not paid.
In order to be granted a patent, several criteria must first be met. Most important, the invention or discovery to be patented must be different from any former invention in the same category. Secondly, a detailed description of the invention, including drawings and claims of what the invention does, must be submitted to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to be reviewed. Once a patent application is filed, it typically takes between 20-36 months for it to be processed through the United States Patent & Trademark Office, when it is finally either accepted or rejected.