Under U.S. Code Title 35, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issues three different types of patents: utility patents, design patents, and plant patents. In order to be patentable, an invention must be novel, non-obvious, adequately described, and claimed by the patent applicant in clear, definite terms.
The USPTO corrects errors in patents that are already issued through reissue patents, which can alter the scope of patent protection. The USPTO also issues statutory invention registrations that offer limited protection to stop other people from patenting a particular invention, design, or plant. In some circumstances, the patent terms described below can be extended.
Utility patents, also known as “patents for invention,” are the most common patents. They are issued in connection with new and useful processes, machines, manufactures, compositions of matter, or improvements. Examples of inventions protected by utility patents include computer software, investment strategy, medical equipment, tools, chemical compositions, genetically altered life forms, and improvements.
Utility patents generally last for 20 years.
Owners of utility patents are allowed to exclude others from making, using, or selling an invention for a 20-year period from the date the patent application is filed. Maintenance fees must be paid for this type of patent, making it more expensive than a design patent. Although utility patents offer broad protection against potentially competing inventions, it can take two to three years to receive a utility patent.
In order to be granted a patent, the subject matter of a utility patent application must be useful. Traditionally, this meant operability, practical use, and beneficial use. With regard to operability, a fantastic invention that cannot be operated will not be granted a utility patent even if it has both practical and beneficial uses. “Practical use” refers to real-world use. This element can be easily established for many types of inventions, but it can be harder to establish in the case of chemical compounds, which are sometimes developed before their practical function is nailed down. The beneficial use strand of the utility requirement, which barred immoral or deceptive inventions like gambling devices, is mostly no longer applied.
Design patents are issued in connection with new, original, and ornamental design that is contained within or applied to something that is manufactured. They are less expensive and easier to obtain than a utility patent. They are also the type of patent that is least often sought from the USPTO.
Design patents generally last for 15 years.
A design patent allows the owner to exclude others from making, using, or selling the patented design for 15 years from the date the patent is granted. (Design patents issued from applications filed before May 13, 2015 have a 14-year term.) There are no maintenance fees associated with this type of patent.
Plant patents are issued for the discovery or invention of new and distinct asexually reproducing plants. This can include sports, hybrids, seedlings, mutants, and cultivations, other than plants found in an uncultivated state or that are potatoes or edible tuber propagated plants.
The owner of a plant patent can exclude others from making, using, or selling the plant for up to 20 years from the date the owner files a patent application. Like design patents, plant patents need not be kept up with maintenance fee payments.