Yes, a patent can have one or multiple inventors.
However, the number of inventors is dependent on those that invented the claimed invention. United States Patent Law requires that all inventors must be named in a patent application. The law defines an inventor as only those who contribute to the conception of the claimed invention. An individual is not an inventor if their contribution was only helping to reduce the invention to practice. Additionally, someone should NOT be listed as an inventor on a U.S. patent unless that person contributed to the conception of at least one claim.
Let us run with this example: A first individual conceives of a conductive ink made from carbon nanotubes and formulates the ink and tests it. However, the results are not what they need to make the product they want to. A second individual recommends modifying the ink by adding Nano size Indium Tin Oxide formed from a high shear process which they have been working on.
The two individuals collaborate and after testing identify the best formulation which meets their product needs.
The patent for this new ink needs to list both the first and second individual as inventors if there is a claim that describes how to mix the carbon nanotubes and Indium Tin Oxide together to form the new ink.
If one of the individuals is left off as a name inventor, then the patent could be invalidated.
On the other hand, if the second individual just helped the first with the testing of the ink, then the second individual did not contribute to the conception of the invention and would not be a named inventor on the patent.
Now, a more complex issue is when there are multiple inventions in one patent disclosure. The first individual is an inventor on the first invention and the second invention was reduced to practice by the first individual and the second individual and both inventions are disclosed in the specification. However, the claims only related to the first invention. Therefore, the named inventor would only be the first individual. This summarizes the various options and how to determine who is a named inventor on a patent. It is whoever contributed to the invention defined in the claims.
Patents are complex and those with multiple inventors can get tricky. If you are considering IP protection, make sure you hire an attorney to help you file properly.
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