At Berkeley Lab, we protect inventions and computer software for a number of reasons.
- Companies often limit their technology investments to those with strong intellectual property protection so that they will be able to have exclusive rights to the technology for a period of time.
- By making a technology more attractive, patent protection increases the chances that the technology will be commercialized and benefit the public who funded the research through tax dollars;
- Intellectual property protection ensures that the Lab and researchers receive credit for technology and a fair return for any profits it may generate.
There are two types of intellectual property protection frequently used at the Lab:
- Rights associated with patents vary from country to country. Within the U.S., Patents permit the owner of the patent to exclude others from making, using, selling, offering to sell, or importing the invention for a limited period of time.
- Copyright protects original works of authorship. At the Lab, copyright is mostly used to protect journal articles, books, software, videos, scientific photos, and engineering drawings. Generally copyrighted works created at the Lab fall in the category of "work for hire," and as such the copyright endures for a term of 95 years from first publication.
- If you have written a book and would like to publish it, contact the Tech Transfer Department at x 6467 for assistance with the contracting process.
If you have developed software, please see more on intellectual protection for software.
Types of Patents
Provisional U.S. Patent Application: When an invention appears to have commercial potential, the Lab may first file a provisional patent application, which is less costly than a regular U.S. patent application, and allows the Lab a year in which to promote the technology to gauge the level of industry interest. During that time, an invention will be considered “patent pending.” It is in researchers' best interest to describe the invention as thoroughly as possible on the Record of Invention form (Word doc) to help the Patent Attorney claim the broadest possible protection in the provisional patent application.
Regular U.S. Patent Application: Within a year after filing a provisional application, if the invention continues to show commercial promise, Berkeley Lab may file a regular patent application. Your role, as an inventor, is to provide the scientific and technical input to the patent attorney in order to ensure that the invention is fully described.
Foreign Patent Application: The Lab may decide to file for foreign patent rights. In such cases, reporting of your invention before any public disclosure is of critical importance.
- The opportunity to obtain patent rights in the U.S. ends one year from initial publication.
- The opportunity to obtain patent rights in most foreign countries ends immediately upon the first date of public disclosure.
- The provisional patent application must be converted to a regular patent application within one year.
- The examination and issuance of a regular patent by the US Patent and Tradesmark Office (USPTO) takes about three or more years from the date of filing.
- When a patent is issued, patent maintenance fees are due about every 4 years. If a maintenance fee is not paid, the patent expires. If a patent is not licensed at these junctures, it may be reevaluated to determine whether to pay the maintenance fee.
- Generally, the patent term is 20 years from the initial date of filing.