A patent is a legal contract between the federal government and an inventor.
The inventor publicly discloses all knowledge related to an invention and, in
exchange, the government grants the inventor the right to exclude others from
making, using, or selling the invention for a limited time.
Any person who "invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine,
manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement
thereof, may obtain a patent."
3 Main Types of Patents:
UTILITY: most common type covering the definition above; when
patents are discussed, it usually means a utility patent
DESIGN: granted to a person who invents "a new, original, and ornamental
design for an article of manufacture"; this patent only protects the
appearance of the product; a D precedes the patent number
PLANT: granted to a person who "invents or discovers and asexually
reproduces any distinct and new variety of plant"; a PP precedes the patent
4 Conditions required for Patentability:
What cannot be patented:
- Useful - the invention must have a function; does not apply to plant
- Novel - there must be no previous patent or mention in any publication
- Nonobvious - the invention must not be easily apparent to someone "skilled
in the art"
- Full Disclosure
- Perpetual motion machines
- Abstract ideas
- Natural and physical processes, scientific truths, mathematical
- Products designed solely to harm another person
- Inventions in which public disclosure would be detrimental to national
security (e.g. nuclear weapons)
Patents are an overlooked science information resource. It has been estimated
that 80% of the information in patents is not found anywhere else.
An inventor is not required to obtain a patent. They may choose that the
benefits of keeping the invention secret outweigh the benefits of a patent.
- property of its owner as long as it remains secret, patents have a limited
term (the oldest known trade secret has been kept since 1623)
- can be exploited on a global basis, patents are only valid in the country
in which they were obtained
- once they become public, the owner has limited legal remedies to prevent
others from making or selling the invention
- owner takes on the responsibility of protecting it and preventing its
A trademark is a "word, name, symbol, or device that is used in trade with
goods to indicate the source of the goods and to distinguish them from the
goods of others." Trademarks are used not only for advertising but also for
quality assurance and identification of faulty products.
Trademarks can be:
||Hershey's, Is that Your Final Answer?, Captain Jean-Luc Picard
|Symbols or Designs:
The following types of trademarks are less common.
||brown for delivery vehicles (UPS), pink for fiberglass
||shape of Pizza Hut buildings, BMW grille
||NBC chimes, MGM lion roar
Trademarks identify tangible products (clothes, food, automobiles, etc.) while
service marks identify services (restaurants, sporting events, insurance,
etc.). Some marks can be registered as both. Wyoming's famous Bucking Horse and
Rider symbol is registered both as a service mark (for educational services and
entertainment/sporting events) and a trademark (for products like sweatshirts,
mugs, paper products, etc.).
Examples of service marks:
|Reg. 1427863; Registered: Feb. 3, 1987; Date of first use in commerce: Apr.
1961; Owner: Cheyenne Frontier Days, Inc.
||Reg. 1151271; Registered: Apr. 14, 1981; Date of first use in commerce:
Aug. 15, 1969; Owner: Woodstock Ventures, Ltd.
Increasing Levels of Trademark Protection:
- Common Law (TM):
- No registration or fees, rights result from use of the mark with the
product, little public notice, owner may use the TM symbol
- State Registration (TM):
- registration and small fee, public notice of use, protection varies by
state, protection only within the state, owner may use the TM symbol
- Federal Registration (®):
- more expensive fees and slower process, must use or have a genuine
intent-to-use the mark in interstate commerce, presumption of ownership
nationwide, exclusive right to use, public notice of use, trademark lasts
indefinitely as long as renewal fees are paid and mark still in use; can be
deposited with U.S. Customs to prevent importation of goods infringing mark,
owner may use the ® symbol only after the mark has been fully registered
with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Some of the reasons a trademark may be refused:
- "Likelihood of confusion" with another trademark
- Immoral or scandalous
- Deceptive (e.g. misrepresents content or geographic region of product)
- Disparages or falsely suggests a connection to a person, institution,
belief, or national symbol
- Mark protected by statute or convention (e.g. the American Red Cross,
Olympic rings, NASA insignia)
Trade names are not trademarks. A trade name is "any name used by a person to
identify his or her business or vocation". Federal law does not allow trade
name registration and not all states offer it (WY does).
WYOMING INVENTORS DATABASE
This database created by the Wyoming State Library indexes United
States patents issued to inventors within the present-day boundaries of Wyoming from 1867 - Present.
It can be searched by name, city, patent number, date issued, and assignee.
Each record provides a link to the full patent on the United States Patent and
Trademark Office website.
- United States Patent and Trademark Office
- Wyoming Secretary of State's Bucking Horse and Rider info page
- Wyoming Patent and Trademark Depository Library
- Wyoming Inventors Database
Wyoming State Library
No information in this handout should be construed as legal
advice. Librarians at the Wyoming State Library can assist with the use of
legal search tools and factual information but cannot offer legal opinions or
interpretations of law. Consult an intellectual property attorney for legal
Created by Statewide Information Services, Wyoming State
Last updated March 2003.