Generally speaking, an inventor is the individual, or in legal language, persons authorized to claim the rights conferred by a patent. Usually, in patent law, an “inventor” is defined as the person, or in legal language, those designated by the National Security Agency to receive “top secret” information. In some jurisdictions, though, including in the European Patent Convention and the United States Patent Application Policy, there are no specific, legally binding definitions of who exactly is considered an “inventor”. Additionally, in a growing number of jurisdictions, there is no requirement that an inventor is a practicing patent attorney or patent specialist. In fact, there are no requirements at all that the invention should be disclosed to the general public even by an owner of the patent. Thus, while there is a clear distinction between an “inventor” and an “owner”, the precise relationship between an “inventor” and the rights granted by a patent is subject to confusion and debate.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) provide a system by which individuals may register their inventions with the USPTO and, if found eligible for protection, submit the appropriate forms to the USPTO for registration. In doing so, inventors must assure that the invention is new and not obvious in view of what others have previously done with similar inventions. Once registration has been completed with the USPTO, it becomes the responsibility of the inventor to disclose the invention to others.
Generally, once an invention is disclosed, it is entitled to seven years, from the date of disclosure, called the “time period”. However, when an invention is later protected by a patent, there is a time limit. The USPTO generally issues patents for one year from the submission of the application, unless a more specific time period is prescribed by law. One can request an extended period of protection via a PTO request. However, if a product, process, machine, drug, food or other item is sold before the protection period expires, then the owner of the rights to that invention can retain the rights once the protection period has expired.
There are two categories of inventor disclosures: U.S. patents and foreign inventions. A foreign invention will need a patent to enjoy worldwide protection; however, a US patent alone will only enjoy limited protection in some foreign countries. In general, all inventions must be registered with the USPTO and its Patent Office before they are protected by a foreign patent. This is typically done through an international filing service, although sometimes, international filing services are not necessary. Additionally, inventors need to disclose foreign patents in order to obtain protection in those foreign countries; failing to do so results in the loss of the exclusive rights to an invention in those foreign countries.
Because the purpose of the USPTO is to create positive value in the marketplace, inventors must also contribute significant market value to the technology that they introduce into the public. Many times, inventors provide technology that others have never seen before, therefore, creating a need for downstream distribution. Sometimes, these applications generate revenue for the inventors. While many large patent firms are able to manufacture a successful product, it takes a great deal of innovation and ingenuity to create positive value for an invention before it is able to come to the market.
Because innovations can come from any number of sources, it is important that inventors do what they can to limit the scope of their inventions. This will ensure that they do not become too valuable. For example, if an invention does not significantly alter the existing product or process, then there is no need to seek protection. However, if an invention affects the value of the existing product or process, then it is necessary to file for protection.