3D printing patent basics

Patent 101

What is a patent?

A patent is a form of intellectual property that protects leaps of invention that are 1) new, 2) useful, and 3) non-obvious. Leaps of invention that have been protected by patent law have included everything from over the counter medications like acetaminophen, to certain types of software and even Edison’s light bulb.  The creator of the invention is often the patent holder, but not always because patent protection is not automatic(as we explain below). The creator can transfer the patent to another person.

What does patent law protect?

Patent law allows the patent holder to control the creation, use, and sale of the invention.

How long does a patent last?

Once the patent has been registered with the US Patent and Trademark Office, the patent will last for 20 years. However, extensions are possible and foreign patents might have different patent terms.

How do you get patent protection?

In order to qualify for patent protection, the creator(or someone they've given their patent rights to) must register the patent with the US Patent and Trademark Office.  For more information about how to register a patent, visit http://www.uspto.gov.

Can New Media Rights help with my patent application ?

At this time New Media Rights does not have a patent attorney on staff, so we cannot help with indvidual patent applications. The USPTO has a variety of law school clinics and pro bono programs that may be able to help.

Ways to legally use another's patented work

The only time you may legally use another’s active patent is if you have a license. Permission from the patent holder is a ‘license’ to use their patent.  For example, the patent holder might give you permission to use a 3D-printable file of their patented object to print that object. Otherwise you have to wait until the patent has expired to freely use it. Because patent terms vary it's always a good idea to make sure the patent you'd like to use has actually expired.

That said patent law does make some exceptions for repairs and research among other things. Many of these patent exceptions are remarkably fact specific so we highly recommend reaching out to a patent attorney if you have questions.


Value legal services for internet users and creators?  Support them.

Find additional articles by

Related Types of Content: 

Additional Tags: