What is a Patent?

The United States patent system is based on the U.S. Constitution, which authorizes the government to grant inventors the exclusive rights to their inventions for a limited amount of time.

Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the constitution states: "The 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"

View this video from the MIT Libraries to learn more about "What is a Patent?"

  • U.S. Patents have been issued since 1790, and now more than 6 million patents have been issued.

  • Patents grant inventors the right to control the use of their inventions for a set number of years--20 years for utility and plant patents; 14 years for design patents.

  • Each patent includes background information on the technology involved, references to related patents, and drawings.

  • The most fundamental requirements for an invention to be patentable are that the patent is for an invention that is:

(1) novel;

(2) useful;

(3) not obvious to one skilled in the art.

Sample U.S. Patent

Sample Patent


See also the USPTO's General Information Concerning Patents and their Patents FAQ for more information about patents.

Check out this great introductory book for more information on patents:

Nolo's Patents for Beginners
Nolo's Patents for Beginners Kindle Edition

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