Practice Areas

What is a U.S. Patent?

A U.S. patent is a form of intellectual property that grants the patent holder exclusive rights to make, use, and sell a patented innovation for a limited period of time, subject to certain defenses and exceptions.  Patentable innovations include useful, novel, and non-obvious articles, machines, compositions of matter, and methods. The claims of a patent define the scope of a protection in the various subject matter areas.  A U.S. patent lawyer can help you understand what can and cannot be patented and the process of applying for a patent, maintaining it over its life, licensing or selling it, and enforcing it against infringers.

Different Types of U.S. Patents

There are generally six different types of patents today in the U.S., which include:

•   Utility Patent- Issued to protect the invention of a new and useful process, machine, composition of matter, or manufacture, or improvement thereof; it permits the owner of the patent to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention for up to 20 years from the earliest filing date, subject to paying maintenance fees during its life..

•   Design Patents- Issued to protect the ornamental design of a new and original, non-functional appearance of an article of manufacture; it enables the owner to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling articles incorporating the design for a period of 14 years from issuance.

•   Plant Patent- Issued for new and distinct, asexually reproduced plants including cultivated sports, hybrids, mutants, and newly found seedlings.  This allows the patent owner to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the plant and/or any of its parts for up to 20 years from the date of application filing. 

Other patents include reissue patents, defensive publication (DEF), and statutory invention registration (SIR).  Provisional patent applications give no rights by themselves but can afford an early priority date to the matter disclosed, for the benefit of a utility patent filed for within one year of filing of the provisional application.  Read more about these and all U.S. patents here.

How Long Does a Patent Last?

U.S. patents are granted for a specific period of time.  For applications filed on or after June 8, 1995, utility and plant patents end 20 years from the earliest filing date, if maintenance fees are paid in the 3rd, 7th, and 11th years after issuance, plus additional time for any Patent Office delays during prosecution.  A design patent (legal protection of the design of a functional item) lasts 14 years from the date the patent is granted.

Cost to Obtain a Patent

The fees to file a U.S. patent vary depending on the type of patent submitted. The filing and related fees for a utility application are, for a “small entity”— that is, one with fewer than 500 employees as well as non-profit and university entities – currently about $750.

These fees apply for a basic patent with up to three independent claims and up to 20 total claims; added charges apply for claims and pages beyond those limits.  According to the 2011 American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA) survey, lawyer fees for preparation and filing of a relatively complex mechanical utility application for a patent ranged from $9,000 to $15,000 in Chicago.  Simpler inventions can be disclosed and claimed for less investment in attorney fees.

Filing a U.S. Patent Application & What to Expect

Before applying for a patent, you must should try to determine whether your innovation is patentable—that is, “useful,” “novel,” and “nonobvious.”  Your patent attorney can help you understand these definitions.

Next, you will need to prepare an invention disclosure that describes the invention and how to use it, and you should if possible research whether the invention has already been published or patented.

Regular utility patent applications must also include a description of any drawings provided, a disclosure of how to use the invention in sufficient detail as to enable a person of ordinary skill in the pertinent art to make and use it, and claims to what you regard as your invention.

Next, you or your patent attorney will prepare and file a patent application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

Your application will be referred to a patent examiner in the art to which the application pertains.  You should expect your attorney to have some back-and-forth correspondence with the Patent Office examiner.  A telephone or an in-person interview with the examiner can be beneficial in obtaining or speeding allowance.

The examiner will do one of the following:

1.         Accept the application.
2.         Reject some or all of the claims made in the application.
3.         Issue an objection if there is a problem with the form of the application.

The examiner must notify you (the applicant, by your attorney) in the case of a rejection or objection, stating the reasons and providing

information and references to justify the rejection or objection.

If the examiner determines that the application meets all of the legal requirements, the patent is issued.  An issue fee of, currently, $755 for a small entity or $1,510 for others must be paid for issuance of the patent. 

Upon issuance of the patent, all rights to exclude others from making, using, offering to sell, or selling the invention come into effect, subject to many defenses under the patent laws and court decisions.

Provisional Applications

The U.S. allows a person to file a “provisional” application, which provides a priority date for a regular utility application filed prior to the expiration of the provisional application.  The provisional application should include a complete disclosure, including any drawings necessary for the understanding of the subject matter, and at least one claim to the invention.  Provisional applications are not examined and are good for only one year until they expire, but the filing fee is only $135 plus the attorney fee, which may be from $3000 to $8500, according to the 2011 AIPLA survey of lawyers in Chicago, or less if you provide a good written disclosure.

How a Patent Law Attorney Can Help

Patent attorneys prepare, file, and prosecute (obtain) patents.  They help individuals and businesses understand patent law and provide crucial assistance throughout the process.

Getting a patent issued today can be a lengthy process, taking an average of two years, although this has increased to an alarming four to five years in many of the examining groups.

This is why it is so important to have a seasoned patent lawyer in Chicago like Crossan IP Law on your side.  A skilled attorney can help you address and/or avoid and overcome any objections or rejections, or file an appeal of with the Patent Office Board of Patent Appeals for final rejections where necessary.

Crossan IP Law can be your trusted patent attorney in Chicago.  

Pending applications for patent (once published, 18 months from filing) and issued patents may be searched on the Patent Office website,, in any of the sections of the patent and by classification, using any words or phrases, including assignee, inventor, etc. Status of an application after publication can be seen as well, including office actions, responses, and amendments.  Whether maintenance fees have been paid at 3-1/2, 7-1/2, and 11-1/2 years from issuance, preventing expiration prior to 20 years from filing, can also be seen on the website. 

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