Patents and Trademarks Law and Legal Definition

Patents grant an inventor the right to exclude others from producing or using the inventor's discovery or invention for a limited period of time. In order to be patented an invention must be novel, useful, and not of an obvious nature. There are three types of patents: a) "utility patent" which includes a process, a machine (mechanism with moving parts), manufactured products, and compounds or mixtures (such as chemical formulas); b) "design patent" which is a new, original and ornamental design for a manufactured article; and c) "plant patent" which is a new variety of a cultivated asexually reproduced plant. The Federal agency charged with administering patent laws is the Patent and Trademark Office. If an application is rejected, the decision may be appealed to the Patents Office's Board of Appeals, with further or alternative review available from the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, or in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. Manufacture of a product upon which there is an existing patent is "patent infringement" which can result in a lawsuit against the infringer and substantial damages may be granted.

Trademarks are generally distinctive symbols, pictures, or words that sellers affix to distinguish and identify the origin of their products and avoid consumer confusion. Trademark status may also be granted to distinctive and unique packaging, color combinations, building designs, product styles, and overall presentations. It is also possible to receive trademark status for identification that is not on its face distinct or unique but which has developed a secondary meaning over time that identifies it with the product or seller. The owner/assignee/licensee of a trademark/mark has the right to exclude others from using that trademark/mark by being the first to use it in the marketplace. Rights in a trademark/mark are obtained only through commercial use of the mark. Service-marks receive the same legal protection as trademarks but are meant to distinguish services rather than products. Under the Lanham Act, a seller may apply to register a trademark with the federal Patent and Trademark Office. Registrations are for renewable periods of 10 years.

Under state common law, trademarks are protected as part of the law of unfair competition. Registration is not required, but is available. Most states have adopted a version of the Model Trademark Bill (MTB) or the Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act (UDTPA).