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Types of Patents

As a small-business owner, a startup company, or an entrepreneur, there are different types of intellectual property protections you may need. The four types of intellectual property rights:

There are three types of patents: utility patents, design patents, and plant patents. Each type has its own eligibility requirements and protects a specific type of invention, useful process, or discovery. However, it's possible for one invention or discovery to have more than one type of patent available for it.

For example, if a person invents an object, and they wish to patent both the functional features and the design of the object, they need to apply for two separate patents — a utility patent and a design patent.

This article will provide an overview of the three different types of patents. Patents protect inventions and discoveries that are new and non-obvious. This article provides a brief explanation of how to get patent protection.

Utility Patents

utility patent is the most common type of patent that people seek. This type of patent covers:

  • Processes
  • Compositions of matter
  • Machines
  • Manufacturers that are new and useful

A utility patent can also be obtained for new and useful improvements to existing processes, compositions of matter, machines, and manufacturers.

  • "Processes" refers to any acts or methods of doing something, usually involving industrial or technical processes.
  • "Compositions of matter" is the term for chemical compositions that can include a mixture of ingredients or new chemical compounds.
  • "Machines" includes anything that is generally defined as a machine, such as a computer.
  • "Manufacturers" are defined as goods that are manufactured or made.

Utility patents have a maximum patent term of 20 years from the filing date of the utility patent application. Additionally, maintenance fees are required for utility patents to keep them in force and maintain legal protection.

Design Patents

A design is defined as the "surface ornamentation" of an object, which can include the shape or configuration of an object. To get this type of patent protection, the design must be inseparable from the object. While the object and its design must be inseparable, a design patent will only protect the object's appearance. An example of a design patent is the original glass bottle shape of Coca-Cola.

Design patents protect the ornamental design of a product rather than its functional features. To protect the functional or structural features of an object, a person must also file for a utility patent. The patent term for design patents in the United States is 15 years from the date of the grant.

Plant Patents

plant patent can be obtained to protect a distinctive new variety of plants. A few requirements to get this type of patent:

  • That the plant is not tuber-propagated (meaning it won't cover an Irish potato, for example)
  • That the plant is not found in an uncultivated state
  • That the plant can be asexually reproduced

Asexual reproduction means that instead of being reproduced with seeds, the plant is reproduced by grafting or cutting the plant. Plant patents require asexual reproduction. Asexual reproduction is proof that the patent applicant can reproduce the plant.

The patent term for plant patents is usually 20 years. Also, there are maintenance fees that the patent owner must pay to keep the patent in force. These fees are due at the end of the third, seventh, and 11th years of having the patent.

How to Get Patent Protection

Regardless of the type of patent you are seeking, patent protection can only be obtained by filing an application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Before filling out a patent application, you should complete a patent search on the USPTO website. There are both provisional and non-provisional patent applications available to patent-seekers.

provisional patent application can be filed to give the applicant more time to figure out the specifics of the invention while protecting it from being patented by someone else. A person who files a provisional patent application has one year from the date of filing to file a corresponding non-provisional application.

The non-provisional patent application begins the official examination process for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to determine if an invention or discovery is eligible to receive patent protection.

Although the information that must be included in the patent application will depend on the type of patent that is being sought, non-provisional patent applications will include:

  • A description and claim of the invention or discovery
  • Drawings
  • An oath or declaration
  • Fees

As per the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), a person can also file an international patent application.

Getting Legal Advice

Patent law is a very technical area of law. It can be difficult for small businesses to understand the patent process without experience or training in patent law. If you are a business owner who wants to find out more about your patent rights, you should contact a local patent attorney.

For more information and resources related to this topic, as well as other types of intellectual property protections, you can visit FindLaw's Intellectual Property section.

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