Patents allow someone to "exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling" an invention for a certain period of time in return for publicly disclosing their invention.
There are three main types of patents:
Copyright protects the reproduction of creative works, including literature, music, artwork, and motion pictures.
Trade secrets require companies to take reasonable measures to protect the secrecy of information of economic value.
Patents provide enough information that someone in the field could reproduce the patented item. Thus, they are a rich source of technical information, as well as competitive intelligence. You may be interested in licensing a described technology from the patent owner, using technology from expired patents, or improving upon a previous technology and filing your own patent. See our Quick Guide to Patent Research to get started.
Patents can cover processes, machines, articles of manufacture, and compositions of matter. A patent must also be useful, novel and non obvious. If something was previously patented, available to the public, or described in a printed publication, then it doesn't meet the novelty requirement. For more information, see Patent Requirements.