Patent Law grants an inventor the right to exclude others from producing or using the inventor's discovery or invention for a limited period of time. U.S. patent laws were enacted by Congress under its Constitutional grant of authority to protect the discoveries of inventors. The main body of patent law concerning patents is found in Title 35 of the United States Code. In the patent law for the invention to be patented it must be novel, useful, and not of an obvious nature. Such “utility" patents are issued for four general types of inventions/discoveries: machines, human made products, compositions of matter, and processing methods. Changing technology has led to an ever expanding understanding of what constitutes a human made product. Specific additions to the Patent Act provide, in addition, for design and plant patents.
Prior to a recent amendment of patent law prompted by the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) accompanying the Uruguay Round GATT, patents were normally issued for a non-renewable period of seventeen years, measured from the date of issuance. Under the amended provision of patent law (which took effect June 8, 1995) the term will be twenty years measured from the date of application.
There is a patent law with regards to patent infringement. Patent infringement cases arise under Federal patent law over which the Federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction. The Federal agency charged with administering patent laws is the Patent and Trademark Office. Each patent application for an alleged new invention is reviewed by a examiner to determine if it is entitled to a patent. While historically a model was required as part of a patent application, in most cases today, only a detailed specification is necessary.
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.
In 1975 the Patent Cooperation Treaty is a patent law that was incorporated into Title 35. The United States is a signatory to several major international conventions which permit U.S. inventors to seek foreign patent protection. The most important of these is the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) ratified in the 1970's. The PCT provides for the filing and processing of a single international patent application in a special branch of the Patent and Trademark Office called the U.S. Receiving Office. The PCT process is akin to an "options" contract in which a single application is filed which claims the right to file in over 90 countries of the world. The PCT provides for a preliminary examination procedure which is given weight by regional and national patent offices. International protection must be procured within one year of the U.S. filing date in the case of a utility patent.