Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed June 20, 2016
Patents provide protection for new discoveries and inventions that are useful, novel, or non-obvious. There are three types of patents available for inventions and discoveries: design patents, utility patents, and plant patents. In order to receive patent protection, the patent seeker is required to file an application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). When a person receives patent protection, he or she has the exclusive right to prevent other people from making, selling, or using his or her invention or discovery. FindLaw's section on Patents provides information on different types of patents, a guide to patenting an idea or invention, tips on licensing a patent, and more. In this section, you can also find links to forms and resources from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Utility patents are the most common type of patent. Utility patents are available for useful and new processes, manufactures (goods), compositions of matter (chemical compositions), and machines. Utility patents can also protect new and useful improvements on existing processes or machines. Two types of applications are available for utility patents: provisional and non-provisional applications.
A provisional patent application is filed if the applicant would like more time to decide if he or she really wants patent protection and so he or she can determine the specifics of the invention. A provisional patent application is temporary but provides protection while the patent-seeker is figuring out the details of his or her invention. A non-provisional utility patent application is the official application one must file for patent protection.
Design patents protect the "surface ornamentation" of an object, or the shape or configuration of an object. A person who invents a new and non-obvious ornamental design on an object can file a design patent application. Although the design and object are inseparable, a design patent only protects the appearance of the object. To protect the structural or functional features of an object, a person must also file a utility patent application (as long as the object qualifies for such protection).
A plant patent can be filed if a person discovers or invents a new and distinct plant. In order to receive a plant patent, the applicant must reproduce the new and distinct plant asexually. Asexual reproduction means that it the plant is reproduced by cutting or grafting the plant, instead of being reproduced by seeds. A plant patent provides the inventor with the exclusive right to use, sell, or asexually reproduce the same plant.
Hiring a Patent Attorney
Patents are a very technical area of law that can often be complicated for people to understand. Each type of patent application must include very specific information and failure to include all of the necessary elements of a patent application can result in a denial of your application. Not following all of the requirements set forth by the USPTO can also result in your patent not receiving full protection under the patent laws of the U.S. If you have questions about your invention or discovery, or would like help filing a patent application, it's a good idea to contact an experienced patent attorney near you.
Learn About Patents
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