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Introduction to The U.S. Patent System

Danny R. Graves, PE, MSEE

Course Outline

This course will provide the student with a general introduction to the various types of U.S. patents that are available. The student will also learn the parts of a patent application, what can get an inventor in trouble, patent professionals that can help with drafting, filing and prosecuting a patent application, how to find out how much getting a patent will cost, and what kind of inventions get special treatment from the U.S. patent office.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.

Learning Objective

By completing this course, the student will learn:

Course Introduction

A patent is a grant, made by a specific government, that gives an inventor the exclusive right to make, use, and sell that invention for a certain period of time. A patent is a piece of property that can be sold, licensed, assigned, etc. to another entity although the inventor listed on the patent never changes.

If the invention is valuable, a patent can be a crucial defensive or offensive business tool. Many industrialized countries have some form of patent process and inventions are often patented in more than one country. In fact, many countries adhere to the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), enacted in 1978, which facilitates a more streamlined process for filing a patent application in more than one country.

The U.S. has a "first to invent" policy meaning that the first person to invent something has the right to get the patent for the invention. Most of the rest of the world has a "first to file" policy which means that the first person to file a patent application for an invention has the right to get a patent on it even if they were not the first to invent it. The "first to invent" policy seems more fair but it is harder to manage than the "first to file" policy. It is easier for a government to verify who filed an application first as opposed to who invented something first. While world wide patent protection is a very important topic, this course is only concerned with introducing the student to the U.S. patent system.

Course Content

The course content is in a PDF file Introduction to The U.S. Patent System. You need to open or download this document to study this course.

Course Summary

Hopefully, this course has cleared up the patenting process a bit for you by explaining the types of patents that are available, what determines patentability, costs of getting a patent, subject matter that gets special treatment, patent drawing requirements, acting as your own patent attorney/agent, and the difference between a patent agent and a attorney.

Getting a patent can often be costly, time consuming, and difficult whether you complete the process yourself or hire a professional. However, a patent will protect your unique idea and keep others from cashing in on it. It is a process that has had 200 years to become complicated and convoluted. However, it has also proven itself to be a very effective way to protect intellectual property.

Of course, do not totally rely on the information in this course for your patent activities. It should be used as a general guide only. You should always consult the latest USPTO requirements or a registered patent agent or attorney. Finally, a U.S. patent protects your invention in the United States only. If you want to protect your invention in foreign countries, you must file a patent application in each country that you desire protection. Search for information on the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) on the USPTO Web site for useful information on filing a patent application in other countries. The references/related links listed on this course are also excellent sources of information for the PCT and patents in general.


Once you finish studying the above course content, you need to take a quiz to obtain the PDH credits.

Take a Quiz

DISCLAIMER: The materials contained in the online course are not intended as a representation or warranty on the part of PDH Center or any other person/organization named herein. The materials are for general information only. They are not a substitute for competent professional advice. Application of this information to a specific project should be reviewed by a registered architect and/or professional engineer/surveyor. Anyone making use of the information set forth herein does so at their own risk and assumes any and all resulting liability arising therefrom.