Patents 101



America Invents Act (AIA)

President Obama signed the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (H.R. 1249) into law on September 16, 2011. The AIA, the most sweeping overhaul of U.S. patent law in more than 50 years, made significant changes to the U.S. patent system aimed in part at improving patent quality. Among the changes that took effect on March 16, 2013, was a first-inventor-to-file provision. (See First to File and First to Invent)

Article 1, Section 8, Paragraph 8 of the Constitution of the United States of America

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.”



A copyright, defined by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, “protects works of authorship, such as writings, music, and works of art that have been tangibly expressed.” A copyright gives the owner exclusive rights to the created work, unless it is sold to an interested party.


Design Patent

A specific type of patent that covers the “new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture,” as defined by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Design patents are sometimes referred to outside the United States as “registered designs”.


The European Patent Office (EPO)

The EPO reviews innovation, competitiveness and economic growth issues in Europe. The EPO’s examiners review European patent applications and determine if a patent is warranted for an invention. In 2012, the European Union approved the creation of a single patent system across 25 countries.



FRAND is an acronym for “fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory.”  RAND is an acronym for “reasonable and non-discriminatory.” These phrases generally appear in Standard Setting Organization (SSO) policies concerning intellectual property rights and are used to describe the terms on which the SSOs ask patent holders to commit to license their SEPs for products that fully implement the standard.

Federal Trade Commissions (FTC)

The FTC is an independent agency of the United States government that reviews consumer protection and competition issues.

First to File

An individual who is the first person to file a patent application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, thus taking precedence over others who have not filed a patent application. The Leahy-Smith America Invents Act revised the rule from “first to invent” to “first to file.”

First to Invent

A rule, applied to patent applications in the United States before enactment of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act, that gave precedence to the individuals who first invented rather than first filed a patent application


Intellectual Property (IP)

Ideas, inventions or creations that can be protected by several tools, including patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. Intellectual property can be shared with others, and, if patented, ownership of the idea or creation is established exclusive and protected property

International Trade Commission (ITC)

The ITC is an independent, quasijudicial federal agency whose mission is to facilitate a rules-based international trading system, in part by investigating violations of U.S. trade law and adjudicating cases involving imports accused of infringing intellectual property rights. Section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930 authorizes the ITC to investigate claims regarding intellectual property rights, including allegations of patent infringement and trademark infringement by imported goods. Both utility and design patents, as well as registered and common law trademarks, may be asserted in these investigations. The primary remedy available in Section 337 investigations is an exclusion order that directs Customs to stop infringing imports from entering the United States.

National Inventors Hall of Fame (NIHF)

The National Inventors Hall of Fame is a not-for profit organization dedicated to inventors who have meaningfully contributed to technological achievements and greatly impacted the advancement of the United States. Each year, in collaboration with its founding partner, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the organization nominates a new group of candidates for induction; each nominee is required to hold a U.S. patent that has made a significant contribution to science. Founded in 1973, The Hall of Fame is located in Alexandria, Virginia on the grounds of the USPTO.


Japan Patent Office (JPO)

The JPO is Japan's patent authority, based in Tokyo.


Korean Intellectual Property Office (Kipo)

Kipo is South Korea's patent office, based in Daejeon Metropolitan City.



A patent owner may give permission to others to use, sell and manufacture her or his invention. Granting a license does not transfer ownership and is usually categorized as exclusive or non-exclusive.



A patent application must demonstrate an inventive step that is not "obvious" to a person reasonably skilled in the related field of invention.



A patent, defined by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, “is a property right granted by the Government of the United States of America to an inventor ‘to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States’ for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted.”


Patentability describes the set of criteria an invention must meet to be granted a patent. To obtain a patent, an invention must be novel, non-obvious, useful and within a subject matter that is eligible for patent protection.

Patent Infringement

Patent infringement is the unauthorized use, sale or importation of a patent without the permission of a patent holder

Patent Protection Duration

The duration of patent protection varies depending on when the patent application was filed. According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, applications for plant and utility patents filed on or after June 8, 1995, last for 20 years from the date the applicant first applied for the patent. This is subject to the payment of the necessary fees where applicable.  Design patents last 14 years from the date the applicant is granted the patent. No maintenance fees are required.


Piracy is the unauthorized and/or illegal distribution, reproduction or use of a patent.

Plant Patent

“A specific type of patent to cover the invention or discovery and asexual reproduction of a distinct and new variety of plant,” as defined by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Prior Art

Information that is available to the public that might be relevant to an inventor’s claims of novelty or originality when filing for a patent.


Reasonable and non-discriminatory terms (RAND)

RAND is an interchangeable term for FRAND (see above).


Standard Setting Organization (SSO)

An SSO is an organization that oversees the development of technical industry standards to ensure the global interoperability of technologies in a given field, such as Wi-Fi or wireless telephony. SSOs include the Institute of Electrical Engineers (IEEE), the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP).

Software Partnership

Through the Software Partnership, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the software community are working together to improve the quality of software-related patents. The Software Partnership enables stakeholders to meet and share experiences, ideas and insights on software-related patents through a series of roundtables.

Standard Essential Patents (SEPs)

Standards-Essential Patents (SEPs) are patents that contain claims that are necessarily infringed by products that implement a standard.  Although colloquially, people speak of licensing commitments applying to SEPs as a whole, in general only those claims that are actually essential are subject to such commitments.

State Intellectual Property Office of the People's Republic of China (SIPO)

SIPO is China's patent office, headquartered in Beijing.


U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (Fed. Cir. or C.A.F.C.)

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit was established in 1982 by Congress to succeed the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals and the U.S. Court of Claims. The Fed. Cir., headquarted in Washington, has national jurisdiction and hears appeals on specialized cases, such as patent and civil suits.

United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)

The USPTO is the federal agency for reviewing and granting U.S. patents, registering trademarks and protecting intellectual property rights outlined in the Constitution. The USPTO advises the President of the United States, Secretary of Commerce and other U.S. government agencies on intellectual property policy, protection and enforcement. The USPTO has a keen interest in maintaining a strong IP system in the United States and abroad.

Utility Patent

A specific type of patent to cover any “new, useful, and nonobvious process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter,” as defined by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. New and useful improvements of processes, machines, articles of manufacture, or compositions of matter are also considered for utility patents. According to the USPTO, “approximately 90% of the patent documents issued by the PTO in recent years have been utility patents, also referred to as ‘patents for invention.’”


What Can and Cannot be Patented

According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, utility patents can be sought for new, nonobvious and useful “processes, machines, articles of manufacture, composition of matter, improvement of any of the above.” Patents cannot be sought for “Laws of nature; physical phenomena; abstract ideas; literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works,” though the last category can be copyright protected. To receive patents, inventions must be “novel, nonobvious, adequately described or enabled (for one of ordinary skill in the art to make and use the invention), claimed by the inventor in clear and definite terms.”

World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)

The World Intellectual Property Organization is a specialized agency within the United Nations devoted to the use of intellectual property, including, but not limited to, patents, copyright, trademarks and designs. The agency strives to stimulate innovation and promote the use of the international IP system.