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If you come up with a unique invention or process, especially one that will make you a fortune, you will want to protect it by obtaining a patent with the U. S. Patent and Trademark Office in Washington, D.C. In general, a patent for an invention is the grant of a property right to the inventor issued by the USPTO. The right conferred by the patent grant is "the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling" the invention in the United States or "importing" the invention into the United States. In other words, a patent does not grant the right to make, use, offer for sale, sell or import, but rather the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, selling or importing the invention.

Be prepared for a long and arduous road, however. You will begin with a patent search to make sure that you are not encroaching on someone else's invention or process. It is recommended that you hire an attorney who specializes in patents and intellectual property. The whole process can take several years, and one cost estimate is $8,000 or more. Once you get your patent, it usually belongs to you for 20 years, and it cannot be renewed. You can license it to someone else to produce the product-for a fee, of course. You will also need to be vigilant about defending your patent.

There are actually three types of patents:

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