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Types of Patents

Patents protect inventions and new discoveries that are new and non-obvious. There are three types of patents: utility patents, design patents, and plant patents. Each type of patent has its own eligibility requirements and protects a specific type of invention or discovery; however, it's possible for one invention or discovery to potentially have more than one type of patent available for it. For example, if a person invents an object and he or she wishes to patent both the functional features and the design of the object, the inventor would have to apply for two separate patents (both a utility and design patent). This article will provide an overview of the three different types of patents available under the laws of the United States, as well as a brief explanation of how to obtain patent protection for your invention or discovery.

Utility Patents

A utility patent is the most common type of patent that people seek. This type of patent covers processes, compositions of matter, machines, and manufactures 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 manufactures. Processes refer to any acts or methods of doing something, usually involving industrial or technical processes. Compositions of matter are basically chemical compositions, which can include a mixture of ingredients or new chemical compounds. Machines include things that are generally defined as a machine, such as a computer, while manufactures are defined as goods that are manufactured or made.

Design Patents

In terms of obtaining a design patent, a design is defined as the "surface ornamentation" of an object, which can include the shape or configuration of an object. In order to obtain 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 with only protect the object's appearance. In order to protect the functional or structural features of an object, a person must also file for a utility patent.

Plant Patents

A plant patent can be obtained to protect new and distinctive plants. A few requirements to obtain this type of patent are that the plant is not a tuber propagated plant (i.e. an Irish potato), the plant is not found in an uncultivated state, and the plant can be asexually reproduced. Asexual reproduction means that instead of being reproduced with seed, the plant is reproduced by grafting or cutting the plant. Plant patents require asexual reproduction because it's proof that the patent applicant can reproduce the plant.

How to Obtain 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). There are both provisional and non-provisional patent applications available to patent-seekers. A provisional patent application can be filed to give the applicant more time to figure out the specifics of the invention or discovery while protecting the invention or discovery 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 USPTO 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 typically include a description and claim of the invention or discovery, drawings, an oath or declaration, and fees. As per the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), a person can also file an international patent application.

Getting Legal Help

Patents are governed by a very technical area of law, which can be difficult for most people to understand without experience or training in patent law. To find out more about the different types of patents, or for help filing a patent application, you should contact a local patents attorney.

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

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