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Utility Patents: Overview

A patent is a right granted to inventors that prevents others from using, making, or selling their invention for a certain period of time. There are three types of patents available for inventions: design patents, plant patents, and utility patents. Design patents protect the appearance of an object, and plant patents protect an invention or discovery and asexual reproduction of a new and distinct plant. Utility patents are the most common types of patents, and they are available for inventions of products or processes, or improvements to existing products or processes.

Whether you're interested in obtaining a design, plant, or utility patent, you must file the application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The USPTO then reviews the application to determine if the invention is eligible for patent protection. This article provides an explanation of things that can qualify for a utility patent as well as a brief description of the utility patent application process.

What Is a Utility Patent?

A utility patent is available for an invention or discovery of a new and useful machine, manufacture, composition of matter, or process. This patent is also available for improvements to a machine, manufacture, composition, or process that are considered new and useful.

A "machine" includes anything that is generally considered a machine, such as a computer or a tractor. A "manufacture" refers to goods which are made or manufactured, while a "composition of matter" is chemical composition that can include new chemical compounds as well as mixtures of ingredients. Finally, something is considered a "process" if it's an act, method, or process of doing something, primarily including technical or industrial processes.

The Difference Between Utility and Design Patents

A utility patent provides protection for the way an object works and is used, while a design patent protects the way an object looks. If both the utility and the ornamental appearance of an object are new inventions, it's possible for the object to receive both a design patent and a utility patent. Although these two types of patents provide legally separate protection, it's not always easy to separate the ornamentality and utility of a particular object. But, it's important to make sure you file for the correct patents in order for your invention to receive full patent protection.

Filing a Utility Patent Application

There are two types of applications available for utility patents: provisional and non-provisional. A provisional patent application can be filed if the applicant needs more time to figure out the details and specifics of an invention, but wants some protection while figuring it out. Please be aware that this is type of application is temporary -- an applicant has one year from the date of filing to submit a corresponding non-provisional application.

The non-provisional utility patent application is the official document to file for a patent. This application begins the formal examination process to determine if the invention is eligible for patent protection.

A non-provisional utility patent application requires a lot of detailed information about the invention but generally, the information that needs to be included is a description and claim of the invention; drawings; and a declaration or oath by the inventor. An applicant is also required to pay filing, search, and examination fees along with the application. Under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), an applicant also has the option of filing an international application for a patent.

Getting Legal Help

Patents can be a complicated area of law. Incorrectly filing a patent application can result in a denial of your application or not receiving full protection for your invention. If you have questions about utility patents or would like help filing a utility patent application, you should contact an experienced patent attorney for guidance.

For more information and resources related to this topic, and other forms of intellectual property, please visit FindLaw's section on Intellectual Property.

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