Patent applications are filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in Arlington, Virginia (just outside of Washington, D.C.) and must meet certain requirements before the application is examined and a patent is issued.

Patent Example

CompuServe
The first patent issued to CompuServe, one of the first online companies.

Patent Fact

Many types of inventions that involve the use of computers are protectable under U.S. patent laws.

The application must include a specification that describes the background of the invention, the details of the invention, a description of its use or uses, drawings that provide a complete understanding of the invention, a description of how the drawings are to be understood and interpreted, and claims that describe the invention in concise terms and determine the scope of protection. An inventor may exclude others from practicing the invention that is embodied in the patent's claims.

When an application is received by the USPTO, it is assigned a serial number and filing date (the date the application requirements are met). Next, the application is assigned within the USPTO to a patent examiner who has a background in the technical area of the invention. The examiner reads the application, reviews the proposed claims, and evaluates the invention according to the standards of patentability, including the standards of novelty and non-obviousness. The examiner conducts a search of prior art and compares the claimed invention to the prior art to determine whether the standards of novelty and non-obviousness have been met. Typically, the examiner will issue one or more office actions requiring the inventor to amend the language of the claims and to distinguish the invention over the prior art. If the inventor successfully addresses the issues and concerns raised by the examiner, a patent for the invention is issued.