Have you created or designed something new? You may be able to protect your rights with a patent. Patents give inventors the exclusive right to create or use a particular invention. A patent is a grant by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) that allows the patent owner to maintain a monopoly for a limited period of time on the use and development of an invention.
There are several primary types of patents about which inventors should be aware:
The most common type is a utility patent, which covers inventions that function in a unique manner to produce a useful result. When people refer to a "patent," they are usually referring to a utility patent.
Once a patent is granted, the owner may enforce it by bringing a patent infringement action (lawsuit) against anyone who makes, uses, or sells the invention without the patent owner’s permission. The most common reason for a patent to come to an end is that the statutory period during which it is in force expires.
Learn more about Applying for a Patent.
If you have a new, useful invention that is not obvious to others in the field of invention, you may qualify for a utility patent. Utility patents are grouped into five categories: a process, a machine, a manufacture, a composition of matter, or an improvement of an existing idea.
Often, an invention will fall into more than one of these categories. For instance, computer software can usually be described both as a process (the steps that it takes to make the computer do something) and as a machine (a device that takes information from an input device and moves it to an output device).
Regardless of the number of categories in which an invention falls, only one utility patent may be issued on it.
Among the many types of creative works that might qualify for a utility patent are biological inventions; new chemical formulas, processes, or procedures; computer hardware and peripherals; computer software; cosmetics; electrical inventions; electronic circuits; food inventions; housewares; machines; and magic tricks.
If you acquire a utility patent, you can stop others from making, using, selling and importing the invention. A utility patent lasts for 20 years from the date that the patent application is filed.
Learn more about Utility Patents.
If you create a new and original design that ornaments a manufactured device, you may qualify for a design patent. Design patents are outlined by 35 U.S. Code § 171.
A design patent is granted for product designs—for example, an IKEA chair, Keith Haring wallpaper, or a Manolo Blahnik shoe. You can even get a design patent for a computer screen icon.
There are strings attached to a design patent, however. The design must be ornamental or aesthetic; it cannot be functional. Once you acquire a design patent, you can stop others from making, using, selling and importing the design. You can enforce your design patent for only 14 years after it is issued.
Learn more about Design Patents.
The least frequently issued type of patent are plant patents—granted for any novel, nonobvious, asexually reproducible plant. Plant patents are outlined by 35 U.S.C. 161.
Asexual reproduction is the propagation of a plant to multiply the plant without the use of genetic seeds to assure an exact genetic copy of the plant being reproduced. Any known method of asexual reproduction that renders a true genetic copy of the plant may be employed. This may include cultivating different types of plants to create mutants or hybrids and also newly found seedlings.
This patent protects the owner by keeping other individuals or businesses from creating the type of plant or profiting from the plant for at least 20 years from the date of the application.
Learn about Plant Patents.