Published patent applications list up to three categories of individuals involved in prosecution: “inventor,” “assignee,” and “attorney of record.” Office Actions refer to the “applicant.” What does each term mean, and what rights are attached to each category?
Applicant: Whoever is assigned the rights to the patent is called the “applicant.” This could be the original inventor, or it could be the assignee.
Inventor: Unless otherwise determined by a contract or a sale, the rights to the patent belong to the inventor(s). All inventors included in the Application Data Sheet will be listed on a published patent application.
Assignee: An assignee is an individual or a company that has gained rights and title to the invention. The assignee, not the inventor, owns the intellectual property. If the assignee is already determined when you file the application, the Application Data Sheet will include assignment information. If the rights to the patent are assigned after filing, you must file an Assignment with the USPTO.
Attorney of Record: An attorney or agent of record receives no rights to the patent, but is authorized to act on behalf of the applicant. This means that the attorney/agent of record can receive correspondence, interview the patent Examiner, and file applications and responses to Office Actions on behalf of the applicant. You must file a Power of Attorney whenever you want a patent attorney/agent to act on your behalf as your representative to the USPTO.
All USPTO correspondence, including the Patent Certificate, is mailed to the attorney of record if a Power of Attorney was filed. If there is no attorney of record, the correspondence is mailed to the assignee. If there is no assignee, it is mailed to the inventor.
Finally, let’s take a look at an issued patent. As you can see, the inventor and the assignee are featured prominently right below the title. The patent professionals are listed further down – the attorney of record right under the Examiners.