Which 3 Types Of Patents Are Recognized by the USPTO?

If you have an idea for an invention, do you know what a patent is? How about the different types of patents?

Patents protect the mechanisms, principles and components of an invention. According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), a patent for an invention is defined as “the grant of a property right to the inventor.”

Patents are issued by the USPTO, but not on the same level as frequently filed intellectual property like trademarks and copyrights. Fewer entrepreneurs are in need of patents the way they would require a trademark, which protects unique words and designs that identify a business, or copyrights, which safeguards original creative works like TV shows and sculptures.

What entrepreneurs and inventors may not realize is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to filing a patent for an invention. The USPTO recognizes three different types of patents in existence:

  1. Utility patents
  2. Design patents
  3. Plant patents

What does each one do and how do you know if your invention requires this type of patent? Let’s take a closer look to see which patent you may register.

Related: 10 Reasons to Patent Your Startup’s New Invention

Utility patents

What’s the definition?

A utility patent is one of the most commonly filed applications with the USPTO. This patent is granted to individuals that invent or discover a new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter.

How do I know my invention needs a utility patent?

Look to the definition to decide if your invention should be classified as a utility patent.

Some examples of inventions that may be granted a utility patent include software, like a new search engine, or fashion, such as a specific style of sneakers. Utility patents may also be granted to inventions where there are new and useful improvements, too.

What else should I know?

Utility patents and plant patents (which we will get to shortly) have the option to file as a provisional or nonprovisional application.

What’s the difference between the two terms?

Provisional applications are a low-cost patent filing. This allows applicants to establish a filing date in the U.S. for their invention and claim the invention with a nonprovisional application filed later.

Nonprovisional applications are looked over closely by a patent examiner and may be issued if the requirements for patentability are met by the patent. Typically, utility patents file nonprovisional applications with the USPTO. Once a utility patent has been granted to its inventor, it protects the invention for 20 years from its application filing date.

Related: Incorporate Your Business Through StartupNation

Design patents

What’s the definition?

Did you invent a new and/or ornamental design for an article of manufacture? You’re eligible to register for a design patent.

How do I know my invention needs a design patent?

Although it sounds a little similar to a utility patent, design patents stand out because of their ornamental designs applied to an article of manufacture. Design patents are issued to protect the article’s look and appearance, whereas a utility patent protects the use of an article. Think aesthetically pleasing designs on furniture and jewelry.

What else should I know?

You receive more than a decade’s worth of protection with a design patent. Once a design patent has been granted to an inventor, its term lasts for 14 years.

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Plant patents

What’s the definition?

If you invented, discovered, or asexually reproduced (by means other than from seeds) a new or distinct type of plant, you may register for a plant patent.

How do I know my invention needs a plant patent?

The answer to this question goes a little bit beyond growing a new type of flower in your garden.

The USPTO specifies that plant patent protection is limited to certain organisms. These include living plant organisms, cultivated hybrids or transformed plants (where hybrids are natural), and algae and macro-fungi. Bacteria and edible tuber reproduced plants, like potatoes, would not be eligible for a plant patent. A plant mutant may receive a plant patent, but only if it was discovered in a cultivated area.

What else should I know?

Plant patents also follow the same rules as utility patents to file as a provisional or nonprovisional application. The inventor who files their plant patent application must also be the same person who invented, or reproduced, the plant in question. Those plants that receive a plant patent are protected for 20 years, much like a utility patent.

Now that you have a better idea of which type of patent you need to register your product with, your new invention will be properly protected as you move forward.

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