About Patents

Protecting your Inventions

Below are important principles you should be aware of in order to enable us to effectively protect your inventions:

What is an Invention?

An invention is a new and useful process, device, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or a new and useful improvement upon one of these.

What makes an invention patentable?

An invention is potentially patentable if it satisfies all three of the following:

  • Novelty: The invention must be novel, i.e., new and original. An invention cannot be considered novel if it has been known, used, published or patented by others anywhere in the world before the date the invention was made by the applicant.
  • Non-Obviousness: The invention must not, at the time it was made, be considered obvious to a person of "ordinary skill" in the field of the invention.
  • Utility: The invention must be useful, i.e., it must have a practical application.

Does disclosure of an invention jeopardize the right to patent protection?

Public disclosures such as publications, lectures, abstracts, symposiums, posters, etc., made prior to the filing of patent application will jeopardize or eliminate the possibility of obtaining patent protection. Although patent law in the United States allows a one-year grace period between the first public disclosure of an invention and the filing of a patent application, most other countries (including members of the European Union) do not. In these countries, the right of patent protection is lost immediately upon disclosure.

We therefore wish to stress the importance of not disclosing publicly any potentially patentable information before consulting with OTT. We urge you to send us your draft abstracts and manuscripts before their publication. We have the ability to file a provisional patent application the same day you send us an abstract or manuscript. In no instance will your publication be delayed.

A patent application filed prior to publication protects the rights in your invention without affecting your ability to publish, and may be of great value to you and Caltech in the future.

What is considered a public disclosure of an invention?

Anything that is readily available to the public that describes the basic ideas in enough detail that someone else would be able to make and use the invention is considered a public disclosure. Public disclosures can take place in many different forms, including for example, journal papers, abstracts, conference presentations, publication on the World Wide Web or even dissertations indexed at the library. Showing or telling these ideas may also constitute disclosure, as does selling or offering for sale a prototype of the invention.

What can you do to improve chances of obtaining a patent?

You can significantly improve the chances of obtaining a patent by following a few simple rules. It is essential to maintain a detailed written record of your experiments in such a manner as to enhance the probability that your research results may be patented and will withstand challenge over the long term. Your written records will become the most important documentation of your work and are esssential to establishing a strong and enforceable patent. Seemingly minor errors or omissions that make your notes ambiguous or incomplete may one day jeopardize your patent or patent application.

Please contact any of our staff at OTT if you have any questions.

Useful Resources
For more detailed information about intellectual property protection please see:

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