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Another Perspective on Inventions and Patents

Jul 8, 2008

by Sarah Feingold

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

Although SarahSays is an attorney licensed to practice law in the State of New York, she is *not* a patent attorney.  However, she does understand patent law a bit better than most of us.  This article examines U.S. patent law and provides some fun examples from the entrepreneurial and creative field of U.S. patents.

The Constitution of the United States gives Congress the power to enact laws relating to patents, in Article I, section 8, which reads: “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 discoveries.”  As I mentioned in a previous article, a U.S. patent gives an inventor the right to exclude all others from making, using, importing, selling or offering to sell the invention for up to 20 years without the inventor’s permission. 

That means that for a limited time the owner of a patent is entitled to make and sell the invention, free from competition.  The owner of the patent can also license the patent, so that someone else can make the invention or the owner can go to court and ask a judge to stop another person from making or selling the invention that is defined by the claims in the patent.  In effect, a patent can be a powerful legal tool which allows the patent owner the sole right to a competitive edge in the market for the term of the patent. 

U.S. patent law specifies the general field of subject matter that can be patented and the conditions under which a patent may be obtained.  In the language of the statute, any person who “invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent,” subject to the conditions and requirements of the law.

Some patents have protected historical or famous inventions like Eli Whitney’s Cotton Gin or Thomas Edison’s Flying Machine.  

However, there are many patents that may not have such historical significance (thanks patentoftheweek.com). 

Sick of your ordinary toilet?  How about a mouth-shaped urinal or a toilet tank aquarium.  

And don’t you just hate it when you have to blow out those pesky candles on your birthday cake?  Good thing in 1964 Paul Bosak patented his birthday cake candle extinguisher!  And, of course, the next time my computer is on the fritz, I’ll be sure to thank the inventor of my computer repair kit

Sure, I’m smiling as I read over some of these patents, but remember, each patent represents a lot of time and effort (not to mention money) put into the invention.  And it’s likely that the inventor will police their patent for the term of the patent.

For more information on U.S. patent law, check out the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s website.  If you want to search for a patent, try Google’s Patent Search.

What do you think about patent law?  Please share any interesting patents in the comments below!

8 comments

  • HistoryofArt

    HistoryofArt said 11 years ago

    Very informative article. Makes me wish I had a fishtank toilet.

  • TeenAngster

    TeenAngster said 11 years ago

    Amen to the fishtank toilet.

  • memopause

    memopause said 11 years ago

    Never saw a fishtank toilet, but some people I used to babysit for had a fishtank coffee table and a fishtank grandfather clock.

  • whatshername

    whatshername said 11 years ago

    Guess they must have like fish.

  • fullstop

    fullstop said 11 years ago

    If you want to read some seriously hilarious patents try looking up Arthur Paul Pedrick. His "Photon Push-Pull Radiation Detector For Use In Chromatically Selective Cat Flap Control And 1000 Megaton Earth-Orbital Peace-Keeping Bomb" is a classic. On a slightly more informative note, patent law around the world is surprisingly similar for the most part. If you live in Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Europe, Canada or Singapore then what SarahSays has written still mostly applies, although check your patent office's website for the details. Outside those places my knowledge gets a little sketchy. I will add though that wherever you are the protection of a patent only applies in the country it's been granted in. So, say if someone has an invention they've patented in the US, if they want to stop people in Canada copying it they'd better have a patent in Canada too. Also, google patents is great but it only searches the US. For a more international patent search, try http://ep.espacenet.com/ Thanks so much for the great article! Patents is a topic that seems to cause a fair bit of confusion, so thanks for setting it all out so clearly :)

  • fullstop

    fullstop said 11 years ago

    Oops! Sorry don't know how the double post happened :(

  • mcfunley Admin

    mcfunley said 11 years ago

    Personally I think the patent system is horribly broken (seems like at least one free energy device is granted one every year), but that said, Eddie Van Halen has what is generally agreed to be the greatest patent ever: http://www.google.com/patents?id=-QgyAAAAEBAJ&printsec=abstract&zoom=4#PPA1,M1

  • dogties

    dogties said 11 years ago

    Thanks for the scoop Etsy Rocks.

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