Patents protect the discoveries and inventions, which are novel, non-obvious, and useful. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issues three types of patents, namely utility patents, design patents, and plant patents. The eligibility criteria for these patents vary as they protect a specific type of invention. However, a single invention can have more than one type of Patent Protection available for it. For instance, if an individual wants to protect not only the design but also the functional features of the invention, then he would have to file two Patent Applications (for a design and utility patent).
According to the USPTO, a utility patent is the most common type of patent that people seek, and 90 percent of the patents are utility patents. This type of patent covers machines, processes, compositions of matter, and manufactures, which are non-obvious, new, and useful. Processes refer to the technical or industrial processes involving new methods of doing something. Compositions of matter are chemical compositions involving new chemical compounds or a mixture of ingredients. Machines include things like a computer, whereas manufactures include manufactured products or items.
Protection for utility patents is available for 20 years from the date of application. In addition to the initial fee paid at the time of patent filing, the owners must submit a maintenance fee throughout the life of the patent to ensure its protection. Extensions in the term of patent protection are available for the owners who wish to protect their inventions beyond the 20-year mark. However, they are only available in certain circumstances and for specific utility patents.
Utility patents help in preventing unauthorized users from manufacturing, selling, distributing, or using your invention. Additionally, once you have filed the patent application for a utility patent, its immediate status would change to “patent-pending,” which will further act as a disclaimer until the patent is formally issued.
A design patent protects the aesthetic and ornamental appearance of an object. Protection of the design patents is available for the appearance, shape, configuration, or general ornamentation of an object. Design patents can prevent others from manufacturing, selling, or using the appearance of your product or object. For obtaining this type of protection, it is imperative to note that the design must be inseparable from the object. However, the design patent shall only protect the design and not the object. For protecting the structural or functional elements of an object, a person must file for a utility patent as well.
Protection of design patents is valid for 14 years from the date of application, and unlike utility patents, no maintenance fee is associated with design patents.
Plant patents protect the invention of asexually reproduced plants. They require asexual reproduction for proving the fact that the applicant can reproduce the plant. For obtaining this type of patent protection, the plant must not be a tuber propagated plant, i.e., an Irish potato. Additionally, the plant must not be uncultivated. Plant patents, like the utility and design patents, must also be novel, and non-obvious. Protection for plant patents is available for 20 years that doesn’t include any maintenance fee. Hybrids, sports, and mutants are a few examples that own the plant patents.