Types of Patents in the United States

In the US there are three types of patents - utility patents, design patents, and plant patents. It is important to know how your invention will be looked upon by the federal government. Make sure you are aware of the different types of patents that exist and choose the right one when filing to protect your concept. The following is a breakdown of the three main categories that are taken into consideration.

Utility patents are by far the most popular type filed and the cover the unique functional aspects of an item. They are defined by the USPTO as “the invention of a new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or a new and useful improvement thereof.” Providing their owners with exclusionary rights, they are tailored to preventing others from using, making, and selling the new creation throughout the term of the patent—twenty years in the United States—provided that all of the associated maintenance fees are paid. Common types of utility patents include those related to biology, chemistry, software, and business methods.

Design patents cover the nonfunctional makeup of different items. They provide their owners with exclusionary industrial design rights over “a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture”. This can cover anything from the shape of a beverage bottle to a computerized font type. They can keep an inventor protected in situations where someone else has designed something that is considered to be substantially similar to what they have protected. However, if the design covered by a patent is found to offer some practical utility to its item, the protection may be invalidated. They do not require any maintenance fees and have a validity period of 14 years from the issuing date.

Plant patents are the third type of patent that is important to distinguish. They provide creators with similar exclusionary rights that cover “new and distinct, invented or discovered asexually reproduced plant including cultivated sports, mutants, hybrids, and newly found seedlings, other than a tuber propagated plant or a plant found in an uncultivated state”. Initiated in the Plant Patent Act of 1930 and furthered by the Plant Variety Protection Act of 1970, plant breeders’ rights can grant these inventors with up to 25 years of protection.

The United States government also offers its citizens the opportunity to apply for a provisional patent. The process involved is easier, faster, and less expensive than that of a full-fledged application. These were enabled in the summer of 1995 as a means of easing the ability for anyone to become the first-to-file, before undertaking the overtly cumbersome official process. Provisional applications are offered for prospective utility and plant patent-holders, providing them with a twelve month period of pendency. During this period, they can work with an attorney to put together the proper documentation and raise the funds that are necessary for a non-provisional patent application, which must be obtained for long-term protection.