A patent is a bundle of rights granted to an owner of the patent. The patent owner has the exclusive right to make, use, and sell the invention described by the patent. These rights typically can last for many years. For example, a U.S. design patent has a term of 14 or 15 years from the date it is issued, and a U.S. utility patent can last 20 years or more from the date it was effectively filed.
In the United States, there are patents covering utilitarian features of an invention (i.e., Utility Patents), patents covering ornamental features of an invention (i.e., Design Patents), and patents covering new and distinct varieties of plants (i.e., Plant Patents).
The Unites States currently operates under a first-to-file system, where the first inventor to file a patent application for an invention is entitled to receive a patent for that invention. Disclosure of an invention prior to the filing of a patent application can preclude a person from obtaining patent protection. In many foreign countries, a patent may be barred if the subject of that application was publicly disclosed (e.g. subject of a presentation, subject of a published document, offered for sale, sold, etc.) prior to filing. Applicants should take this under consideration when planning a patenting strategy.
When disclosing their invention prior to having filed the application, the costs and benefits of a public disclosure, offer of sale, or sale of an invention should be weighed against the value a patent may provide to the business associated with that invention. In the U.S., and some other countries, an application for a patent may not be barred if the application is filed within a year of such a disclosure. Yet, other countries may not bar a patent application if it is filed within six months of such a disclosure, and other requirements are met.