Let's say that you invent an incredible product. Obviously, this doesn't just happen overnight. You need to invest in your product; you need to fine-tune your product; you need to develop and create the product. Once it is finally finished (this could take months, if not years), you are ready to patent it so that your hard work is legally protected.
However, during all of that development, other people or companies may have invented something similar to your invention. So what rights do you have during the patent process, and what do they protect? Let's take a look at the various stages of the patent application process:
- Prior to receiving your patent, or even applying, you basically don't have any rights. You could try to protect your invention under trade secret law, but that can be tricky.
- When your patent application is submitted, it will be placed under a "pending" designation. You can label your invention as "patent pending," which serves as a warning to others that even though your product isn't yet patented (and, thus, doesn't have the legal protections a patent provides), it will be soon. Remember that you need to ensure that your patent truly is "pending" because the false use of a "patent pending" label can lead to a fine.
- When the patent is approved, it grants you a wide range of rights regarding your product, and this lasts for 20 years.
- When the 20-year window closes, the patent expires and other people and companies are allowed to use, sell or replicate your product. You could still sue under patent infringement guidelines though, even if the window has closed.
Source: FindLaw, "Patent Enforcement FAQ," Accessed Dec. 8, 2015