A patent document as published looks like this: Patent Anatomy. Cool, eh?
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A patent is a device used to protect the intellectual property of a person who designs, invents or cultivates an original work of special value. While it is mainly considered an intellectual property protection, the patent will also express the real property described in the document. In most cases, this protection is a key part of any new invention.
In some cases, many thousands, or even millions, of U.S. Dollars are used to develop a new product or idea. In such situations, it would be very disingenuous to allow others to profit from the investment that someone else has made. Not only would it not be fair, it would also discourage further initiatives because there is no guarantee the developer or inventor would be renumerated properly.
Each country is responsible for determining its own patent process and what may be protected. While some patents may only be valid in the country for which they are issued, others will be protected in various countries. This is often determined by treaty, but is hard to enforce sometimes when violations occur.
There are three basic forms in the United States: utility, design, and plant. A plant patent describes protections when someone produces a new variety of plant species. A design patent is one that protects a new ornamental design. The utility patent protects when a person has invented a physical object of some sort. A provisional patent can also be issued, which is a streamlining of the utility patent good for 12 months. However, a permanent patent must be issued by the end of the provisional period.
Another, more rare form of protection is the business process patent, which helps protect a new manufacturing process or other type of business process from being pirated by other companies. This is a very specialized form that may not have wide acceptance in many world locations. The process to get one is usually very exact and the applicant must be able to prove their form of doing business significantly differs from other standard methods.
In the United States, the patent office also oversees the issuance of trademark symbols and does a little bit with copyright issues. However, copyrights are assumed to be in effect and the property of the original owner without any application process. Therefore, they represent only a small portion of what the office does.
Those who find violations of a patent are on their own, in most cases, to deal with the situation. The patent office's only role is to issue the protection. Once that is done, any violations are handled through the court system. Many of those who file civil suits claiming infringements choose to hire a patent attorney, who has specialization in the field.