The distribution and maintenance of patents in the United States is conducted by the United States Patent Office. A patent is a grant to the person — called the patentee — who created a process or product and contains the exclusive right to use or sell the patented invention in the United States. The United States Patent Office examines all patent applications to make sure they are valid and issues the patent to any inventor whose application fits the necessary requirements. Additionally, the office is charged with the duty of publishing the patents and maintaining the records within the library of those previously issued.
In order to understand what it is that the United States Patent Office does, one must understand what a patent is. A patent is issued to an inventor of a process or an invention, granting him or her the exclusive right to utilize that invention or process in any manner. The patent right is not limited to commercial use. Rather, the patentee may prevent anyone from utilizing the process or invention for purely personal use if he or she did not receive the permission from the patentee to utilize the process or invention.
The United States Patent Office is the governmental body that is charged with issuing these patents to patentees. Prior to issuance, the office will review the application to ensure that it meets the statutory standards that define whether or not the patent will be granted. An example of one such regulation is that the patent must not infringe upon any patent that has been previously issued and is has yet to expire. After the patent is issued to the patentee, the office will store and organize the patent within its library.
If, however, the patent is not granted for some reason, the person who applied will be notified of the reason why. The United States Patent Office may reject the application for many reasons, but the patentee has the ability to remedy the defects of the application unless they are particularly bad. For instance, the patentee may have failed to identify any prior patents on which he or she built his or her patent. In this case, the office will give the patentee a chance to respond by citing such "prior art."
Additionally, the United States Patent Office assists the various agencies of the United States government in any intellectual property matters. For example, the Department of Commerce may be considering enacting regulations that would affect certain spheres of innovation. These circumstances may dictate that the department requests the help of the United States Patent Office to explain any potential impacts existing patent law may have on the regulation.