What is a Patent?

It’s a deal you make with a government:

  • Government gives you a monopoly on the technology you invented, for a limited time. Most patents require “maintenance fees” at intervals during that time. You can sell or lease the monopoly.


  • You agree to describe your invention in enough detail so that a person of average skill in your art or industry can make what you made, or do what you do. You must disclose the BEST WAY(s) you know how to practice the invention.


  • Eventually, your monopoly ends, and your invention becomes part of the public domain and the historical record. Although others may then begin to make and sell your invention, you may still succeed by now competing in other business factors, such as price, delivery, superior service, technical support, or your reputation as a first pioneer and industry leader.

Types of Patents

Design Patent

the aesthetic or ornamentality of something new that looks cool

Utility Patent

tools, devices, processes and methods (recipes, manufacturing steps)

Plant Patent

plants or animals that have been intentionally bred

Is a patent the right choice for your invention?

The VALUE of a patent increases in proportion to:

How hard/expensive a problem it solves

How many people have that problem

How often they need your solution

How readily you and others can detect infringement

Your reputation, willingness, and financial means to FIND and PUNISH others who make or sell illegal copies…

● Tools, devices, machines

● Processes and methods (recipes, manufacturing steps)

● Chemicals and medicines

● Some types of software, especially when connected to an invention that does something and makes a computer do something it does NOT ordinarily do.

● Designs – the aesthetic or ornamentality of something new that

● Plants or animals that have been intentionally bred.

● Pure abstract operations you can do in your head, abstract ideas

● Transient signals, patterns of energy, beams, or waves
( BUT: the machines that emit or receive the energy,or encodes/decodes a signal MAY be patentable )

● Plants, animals, or natural materials or phenomena discovered
operating / living in the wild (you did not invent, you found it already like that…)

● Software running on a general-purpose computer that isn’t doing anything different that computers can’t already do

● Artworks, literature, music, poetry – use COPYRIGHT, not PATENTS

● Inventions that can ONLY be used for CRIMINAL ACTIVITIES

  • There is no such thing as a “lifetime” patent. You cannot “renew” a patent after it expires at the end of its term. Sometimes if a maintenance fee is missed the Patent Office will expire the patent, but you can get it back into force if you pay the maintenance fee plus a late fee.

  • The US Patent Office never sends bills. What they do instead is notify you that you blew it already and that a patent has been expired or an application has gone abandoned. If you receive mail that looks like its a bill from the patent office, it’s probably a scam.

  • The “Poor Man’s Patent” doesn’t work. This myth is probably at least 100 years old by now, but the story goes that you can “patent” something by describing your invention in a letter you write to yourself, and then when you receive the stamped letter, you keep it sealed (unopened) as “proof” that you invented the contents of the envelope earlier than the post office date on the letter. Truth: a description of the invention must be on file in a patent office in order to confer “patent pending” status, and a patent office must grant the patent before its claims become enforceable. The letter mailed to yourself protects NOTHING.
  • Patent vs Trade Secret

    Costs money to file and maintain
    Will publish and everyone gets to learn of your invention
    Will expire - competitors and customers will get to use it free
    Trade Secret
    Does not expire
    You need NDAs for employees or others who learn of the invention
    Someone else can discover the secret and patent it, and STOP YOU even though you discovered the secret first!

    Avoid Public Disclosure!

    Your invention cant be in the public for more than a year with out seeking a patent!

    A Public Disclosure is:

    • A sale, an offer for sale, or a demonstration TO THE PUBLIC of the COMPLETED invention.

    • Printed publications and websites

    • Use in public view (even YouTube)

    IF you are working on an invention:

    • TRY to hide it from public view (allowance is made for inventions
      that cannot be hidden while testing)

    • DON’T tell your friends about it until you have FILED for protection
      OR: Make them sign a non-disclosure agreement!

    About Guy Letourneau

    "That Patent Guy"®
    Us Patent Agent & Professional Engineer

    Over 30 years experience in mechanical engineering including two dozen patentable inventions in various industries. 

    Wrote and self-prosecuted (3) Tesla turbine engine patents.

    Registered to practice patent law before the USPTO, 2014.

    Passed the Professional Engineering licensing exam in mechanical engineering in 1994.

    Written and processed over 110 patents in the last 10 years.

    BSME from University of Massachusetts Amherst, 1985.

    MBA from Heriot-Watt University in Edinborough, Scotland 2000.

    Get help writing patent applications, specifications, and claims for your inventions