Wyoming Business Tips for Sept. 9

September 4, 2012

A weekly look at Wyoming business questions from the Wyoming Small Business Development Center (WSBDC), part of WyomingEntrepreneur.Biz, a collection of business assistance programs at the University of Wyoming.

By Karen Kitchens, Wyoming State Library intellectual property/documents librarian

“I am more than a bit confused about why and when a patent is needed. Are all patents the same? Can you help clarify the process or perhaps direct me to patent training for inventors?” Carrie, Laramie

Among the various forms of intellectual property (IP), patents can be the most important for small businesses, which are often the leading agents in new and developing technology.

Because of this, small businesses provide an active and unique investment opportunity for investors. As a small business owner, your intangible IP assets may far exceed tangible assets in value to both you and potential investors. Patents can play an important role in the economic health of a small business.

A patent is a grant from the federal government conferring the right to exclude others from making, selling or using an invention for the term of patent protection. Unlike trademarks and trade secrets, patents are governed exclusively by federal law.

There are three types of patents: those for useful objects (utility patents), ornamental design (design patents), and asexually reproduced plants (plant patents). Whereas trademarks and trade secrets can last forever if properly maintained and copyrights have a long duration, patent protection lasts only 20 years from the application date for utility and plant patents, and 14 years from grant date for design patents.

Basic requirements for patentability are new (not previously known by others or previously available in the public domain), useful (must have practical utility to accomplish a useful purpose), and non-obviousness (the invention must be considered not obvious to one of ordinary skill in the art).

Last September, President Obama signed into law the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act. The act is an extensive overhaul of current patent laws. One of the most discussed changes was the move from first-to-invent to first-inventor-to-file.

Before, patents went to the person who invented first, which had to be demonstrated using “prior art,” such as documentations such as inventor notebooks or academic papers. Anyone wanting to challenge a patent did so by using “prior art” -- generally public documents published before the patent was granted.

Beginning March 16, 2013, patents will be issued according to which inventor files first, aligning the U.S. system with that of most other countries.

Eight roadshows, hosted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, including Sept. 17 at the Denver Public Library, will take place to discuss new final rules implementing provisions of the America Invents Act that become effective Sept. 16.

Small business owners are encouraged to attend for more information.

A blog version of this article and an opportunity to post comments is available at http://www.wyomingentrepreneur.typepad.com/blog/.

The WSBDC is a partnership of the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Wyoming Business Council and the University of Wyoming. To ask a question, call 1-800-348-5194, email wsbdc@uwyo.edu or write 1000 E. University Ave., Dept. 3922, Laramie, WY, 82071-3922.

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