When someone creates an invention, a patent can be issued that grants certain rights to the inventor. A patent must be applied for and that is done by completing an application and sending it to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
There are three kinds of patents and most are good for 20 years from the when the inventor filed the application. Plant patents deal with new and distinct varieties of plants. Design patents deal with new, original inventions for an article that is manufactured. Finally, utility patents are granted to those people that discover or invent useful, new composition of matter, article of manufacture, machine or process.
Patents are only good in the United States and its territories. A patent means that 'The right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale or selling the invention in the United States or "importing" the inventions in the United States." The key phrase in this is "right to exclude." A patent doesn't grant the right to make, offer for sale, use, sell or import, but the right to exclude others from making, offering for sale, using, selling or important the invention.
If you have applied for a patent and are waiting for an answer, you can inquire by sending a letter the U.S. PTO. The patent application should be enclosed.
The current fee for applying for a patent is $400. If you believe your invention is useful, a patent can help you protect it. An attorney experienced in patent application can help you with the application to make sure your invention is represented in the best way.
Source: United States Patent and Trademark Office, "General Information Concerning Patents," accessed June 17, 2016