What Are the Different Types of Patents?

Patents are designed to protect inventions and new discoveries. A caveat to these inventions and discoveries is that they must be new, useful, and “non-obvious.” These may seem like relatively vague terms, but they do have specific meetings when it comes to federal patent protection law. There are three main types of patents that are available under federal law in the United States. Here, we want to give a brief explanation of each while also discussing how a person can go about obtaining a patent.

Utility patents

Utility patents are the most common type of patent sought by those in the United States. This type of patent covers processes, machines, compositions of matter, and manufacturers that are new and useful. Utility patents can also be obtained for new and useful improvements to existing processes, machines, manufacturers, and compositions of matter. A utility patent lasts for 20 years.

  • Processes refers to methods of doing something
  • Compositions of matter are generally chemical compounds
  • Machines are items that we typically think of as being machines (tractor, water pumps, computers)
  • Manufacturers are any goods that are made or manufactured

Design patents

The definition of design, for the purpose of obtaining a design patent, involves the surface ornamentation of an object. This can include the shape of an object or the configuration of an object. In order to obtain design patent protection, the design must be inseparable from the object itself. However, even though the object and the design may be inseparable, the design patent only protects the appearance of the object. If a person wishes to protect the object’s functionality or structural features, they will have to seek a utility patent as well. A design patent lasts for 14 years.

Plant patents

Plant patents are obtained by anybody who creates a new or distinctive plant. In order to obtain a plant patent, some of the requirements that apply include:

  • The plant is not found in an uncultivated state
  • The plant is not a tuber propagating plant
  • The plant can be asexually reproduced

Asexual reproduction is required because this acts as proof that the patent applicant is able to reproduce the plant. A plant patent lasts for 20 years.

How to obtain a patent in the United States?

Any person who believes they need patent protection for their invention, design, or plant will need to file an application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). When you go to the USPTO website, you will see that there is both a provisional and a non-provisional patent application available to any person seeking a patent.

  • A provisional patent application can be filed to give the applicant additional time to figure out the specifics for their discovery or invention while also protecting the discovery or invention from being patented by somebody else in the meantime. When a person obtains a provisional patent application, they have one year from the date of filing the application to submit their application for a non-provisional patent.
  • A non-provisional patent application officially starts the examination process for the USPTO to determine whether or not the discovery or invention is eligible for patent protection. The information contained inside of a patent application will depend on what type of patent is being sought. In general, non-provisional patent applications will include a description and claim of the invention or discovery as well as drawings, an oath or declaration about the patent, and the application fees.

We strongly suggest that any person who is seeking a patent work with an Orange County intellectual property attorney who has experience handling this area of law. Patent applications can become very technical, and it is often difficult for a person seeking patent protection to understand exactly what they need to do to ensure their discovery or design is completely protected.

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