By Lia Kopin-Green
September 20, 2022

What is a Patent?

Patents refer to a particular set of intellectual property rights granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). In exchange for complete disclosure of an invention, patents provide the inventor or creator of a product or service with exclusive rights to its unique process, design, or system. According to USPTO laws, patents can be granted to someone who “invents or discovers any new and useful process, the machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent, subject to the conditions and requirements of the law.” 

Key Takeaways

  • A patent is a type of grant issued by the USPTO that allows one to protect an invention or creation.
  • There are three main types of patents in the US: utility patents, design patents and plant patents.
  • Patents generally have a 20-year validity period beginning with the date the patent application was filed with the USPTO.

Types of Patents

Patents come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Most patents fall into three major categories: utility patents, design patents and plant patents.

Utility Patents: These are the most common types of patents in the US. Utility patents protect “new, nonobvious and useful” articles of manufacture, compositions of matter, processes, machines and some relevant improvements. Medical equipment, tools, chemical compositions and certain forms of computer software are classic examples of inventions protected by utility patents.

Design Patents: These patents protect decorative design of an article of manufacture. Design patents are generally granted to anyone who has invented a new and nonobvious ornamental design for something with practical utility. In these cases, there must be no functional component to the design. Examples of design patents can be found in jewelry, clothing, cars and furniture. 

Plant Patents: Plant patents refer to intellectual property rights that protect a new and unique plant’s key characteristics. The plant can be natural or bred, but it must be asexually reproducible in order to qualify for patent protection. A plant can either be invented or discovered, but a patent will only be granted if the discovery is made within a cultivated area. Examples of plant patents include new and distinct species of roses as well as pear and almond trees.

Obtaining Patent Protection

A patent application must be filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) regardless of the type of patent.  The application contains several important components such as the abstract, which provides a brief summary of the product, and the claims, which define the boundaries of protection for the product. The USPTO will eventually respond to your patent application with a formal rejection or acceptance decision.

Bottom Line

The laws surrounding patents are highly technical, making it difficult for most people to understand without extensive legal training or experience. You should consult a seasoned intellectual property lawyer when it comes to all things patent law. Your attorney can provide personalized legal support in matters regarding patent application, infringement and more.

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