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How do you get a patent?

A patent is a legal document designed to recognize and protect the right to profit from an invention. Getting a patent is a time-consuming, complex and, usually expensive process, the details of which vary from one country to another. In the United States, patents are issued by the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Every year, the PTO receives 200,000 patent applications. Applying for and receiving a patent requires you to go through a multi-step process that involves paying fees, working with a patent attorney, paying fees,, preparing drawings, paying fees, providing technical explanations as requested, paying more fees, and waiting.

One of the reasons getting a patent takes so long and is so involved is that, in order to process your application, a trained examiner at the patent office has to study the details of your patent to make sure that your invention is patentable: that it meets the necessary requirements, that is not in the public domain, and that it does not conflict with any previously issued patents.

(Historical note: In 1905, when Albert Einstein wrote his most important early papers, including the theory of special relativity, he was working during the day as an examiner at the Swiss patent office in Bern.)