Patent Law in the United States
Patents have been in the news recently as Apple and other technology companies have used
patents to obtain monopoly rights in certain inventions. Although many object to anyone having a
monopoly on an idea or invention, such rights have always been a fundamental part of the
The importance of granting monopolies for new inventions has been recognized in the United States
since the adoption of the U.S. Constitution. In Article I, section 8, the U.S. Constitution:
Congress shall have power . . . To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing
for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and
Patents in the United States are governed by the Patent Act (35 U.S. Code), which established the
United States Patent and Trademark Office (the USPTO). The most common type of patent is a utility
patent. Utility patents have a duration of twenty years from the date of filing, but are not
enforceable until the day of issuance. Design patents protect ornamental designs. Plant patents
protect new varieties of asexually reproducing plants.
To obtain protection under U.S. law, the applicant must submit a patent application to the USPTO,
where it will be reviewed by an examiner to determine if the invention is patentable. U.S. law
grants to patentees the right to exclude others from making, using, or selling the invention.