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The University of Massachusetts Amherst


Who may apply for a patent?

You (the inventor) or your legal representative may apply for a patent, with some exceptions. These include if the inventor has died, is legally incapacitated, refuses to apply, or cannot be found. Two or more people inventing something together may apply for a patent as joint inventors. A person (e.g., a company) to whom an inventor has assigned an invention, or to whom the inventor is obligated (e.g., contractually required) to assign an invention, may also apply for a patent.

If you only contribute money but are not the inventor or co-inventor, you cannot be named as an inventor or co-inventor in the patent application. Furthermore, if you are not the inventor, and the inventor(s) did not assign the invention to you or does not have an obligation to assign the invention to you, you may not apply for a patent. USPTO employees cannot apply for or own a patent unless they inherit it.


Patent ownership gives the owner the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, selling, or importing into the United States the invention claimed. A patent may be owned jointly by two or more entities. Also, the owner may assign a part interest in a patent to another entity.

In the absence of any agreement to the contrary, any joint owner of a patent, no matter how small the part interest, may make, use, offer for sale, sell, and import the invention for personal profit without accounting to the other owners. However, the ability to practice the invention may be constrained by the applicable (non-patent) laws and the rights of others. Joint owners may sell their interest or any part of it, or grant licenses to others, without regard to other joint owners, unless a contract governs their relationship.

Jointly owned or partially assigned patents affect people’s rights. So if you are in such a situation, consult with an attorney to understand the law and protect your rights.

Assignments and licenses

A patent is personal property and may be sold or mortgaged, written into a will, and passed to one’s heirs. An experienced, licensed patent attorney can help with licensing agreements and assignments. Some states have set certain formalities to be observed in the sale of patent rights.


The transfer or sale of a patent or application is executed through an assignment. Patent law also provides for assignment of part interests (half, fourth, etc.) in a patent. Upon assignment, the assignee becomes the owner of the patent and has the same rights as the original owner.

If the patent is mortgaged, ownership passes to the lender until the mortgage has been satisfied and retransferred to the borrower. Assignments which are made conditional on the performance of certain acts or events, such as the payment of money or other subsequent condition, if recorded in the USPTO, are regarded as absolute assignments for USPTO purposes until canceled with the written consent of all parties or by the decree of a court of competent jurisdiction. The USPTO does not determine whether such conditions have been fulfilled.

USPTO Assignment Search

 Patent Assignment Search

This searchable database contains all recorded Patent Assignment information from August 1980 to the present.

 Trademark Assignment Search

The database contains all recorded Trademark Assignment information from 1955 to the present. Trademark Assignments recorded prior to 1955 are maintained at the National Archives and Records Administration.