Monday, May 12, 2014

Patents and Trademarks

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is a federal agency that grants patents and registers trademarks. Patent and trademark law is part of the United States Constitution; Article One, Section 8, clause 8:
“The Congress shall have power…To promote the process of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”
 According to the United States Patent Office, “a patent is an intellectual property right granted by the Government of the United States of America to an inventor “to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States” for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted.” At the present time, a patent has a term of 20 years.

The first U.S. patent was issued to Samuel Hopkins for an improvement “in the making of Pot ash and Pearl ash by a new Apparatus and Process.” President George Washington signed this on July 31, 1790. The first patent issued to a woman was on May 5, 1809. Mary Dixon Kies of Killington, Connecticut was issued a patent for: “In Weaving Straw with Silk or Thread.”

The Patent Office operates on fees collected by its users and not on monies from taxpayers. At times, fees that have been collected from the Patent Office have been put into the general budget of the U.S. Treasury. There has been opposition to this by patent practitioners. The use of the funds to improve the office and the system is deemed more desirable.

As of 2011, over 8,743,423 patents have been granted and over 16,020,302 applications have been received.

Trademarks were protected under State common law in colonial times; and in 1881 Congress passed a Trademark Act. Trademark law prevents copying a “source-identifying mark.” One can acquire a trademark if one uses a logo or brand name for a product or packaging.

There are four categories of trademarks: 1. arbitrary and fanciful ; 2. suggestive; 3. descriptive and 4. generic.

In New England, the largest collection of patents can be found, since 1790, at the Boston Public Library.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) provides detailed information in assisting citizens to search for patents/trademarks and to register them.

Please visit the State Library in room 341 or room 442 of the State House to use our public access computers in researching the USPTO.

Bette L. Siegel
Government Documents Librarian