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J. Nevin Shaffer, JR. J. Nevin Shaffer, JR.
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What is a patent?

Well, there are three things that are patents. A patent is a federally-issued right to protect a variety of things. The things on Shark Tank that you talk about are typically utility patent coverage: structural, functional things. Dog bowls, trailer hitches, whatever. But the U.S. Patent Office also issues a design patent, which covers the artsy craftsy curved back of the iPhone, not the structural utilitarian part, and it also issues plant patents for asexually reproduced plants. But, again, on Shark Tank, when people say: “Hey. Do you have a patent on this?” they’re talking a utility patent, and a utility patent covers improvements on inventions, and it gives the inventor the right to stop other people from making, using, or selling the patented thing. It’s a very valuable, important right, but they’re technically difficult to obtain and don’t last very long, something less than 20 years.

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