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Patents 101: The Different Types of Patents

By Eric Misterovich

Any business entity or inventor that is considering securing patent rights for a novel and non-obvious invention needs to know a little bit about the different types of patents that are available from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO or Patent Office). The USPTO grants patent rights based on the type of patent application that is filed, i.e., the type of invention. The type of patent you are applying for depends on the specific subject matter that your invention is directed to.

Different Types of Patents

Many people are surprised to learn that there are six different types of patents that can be issued by the USPTO. Of these six types of patents, a vast majority of patents are of the three following types

  • Utility Patents:

    When an invention is directed to a new and useful machine, process, manufacture, or composition of matter, or a new and useful improvement thereof, patent applicants can seek a utility patent from the USPTO. Utility patents are the most common form of patent application filed with the USPTO. When a utility patent application is issued as a utility patent, it lasts for a period of 20 years from the effective filing date of the patent application.

    • Business Method Patents: A subset of utility patents includes patents directed towards specific methods for conducting business. These type of patents are known as business method patents. Business methods can be tricky to obtain patent protection on because it is often difficult to distinguish a patentable business method from an abstract idea about a way to conduct business.
    • Software Patents: Another subset of utility patents are patents directed towards software and certain aspects of how computer hardware and software interact together. Obtaining patent protection on software can be difficult and it is in your best interest to work closely with an experienced patent attorney who specializes in securing software patent protection if your invention is directed towards software or information systems technology.
  • Design Patents:

    It is possible to obtain patent protection on a specific ornamental design of an article of manufacture. Similar to trade dress protection or trademark protection for a product design, a design patent provides patent protection to a specific design of a product that is illustrated in the design patent. Design patent protection lasts for a period of fifteen years from the date that the design patent is granted.

  • Plant Patents:

    It is possible to invent or discover a new and distinctive plant, and patent protection can be sought via a plant patent. A new and distinct asexually reproduce plant that is invented or discovered can be patent protected. This includes plants that are cultivated sports, mutants, hybrids, transformed plants, newly found seedlings, algae or macro fungi, but not a tuber propagated plant. Plant patents have a duration of 20 years from the effective filing date of the corresponding patent application.

The remaining three types of patents are known as Reissue Patents, Defensive Publications, and Statutory Invention Registrations. These last three patent types are encountered infrequently and are only appropriate in limited circumstances.

Utility Patent Applications Types: Provisional or Non-Provisional

Prior to obtaining a patent, inventors must file a patent application. The patent application is reviewed by the USPTO to determine if the invention is patent eligible and whether the invention is new and non-obvious in light of everything else that already exists in the world. At the patent application stage of this process you will determine what type of patent you are trying to pursue, i.e., a utility patent application, a design patent application, or a plant patent application.

If the subject matter of your invention qualifies for utility patent application status, you should be advised that your patent application further exists in one of two types: provisional utility patent application and non-provisional utility patent application. Design patent applications and plant patent applications are not similarly broken down into provisional or non-provisional types at the application stage.  

  • Provisional Utility Patent Applications:

    Sometime an inventor has a great idea, but is not 100% ready to file a full and complete patent application. The inventor might want to work out some kinks in the design, tweak some parameters to see if any unexpected result are produced, or might not know exactly what the novelty of the invention is yet. In the United States we have what is known as a first inventor to file system, which means that the first inventor to file a patent application to the USPTO will be issued a patent, presuming all other patental criteria are met. Provisional patent applications are a mechanism by which inventors can file a rough version of their patent application in order to preserve an earlier filing date. Provisional patent applications only require a disclosure of the invention, and provisional applications are not examined by the Patent Office. Instead, provisional patent applications function as a placeholder in time to secure an earlier effective filing date. Once a provisional patent application is filed with the USPTO, applicants have up to one year to submit a more fleshed-out version of their patent application, known as a non-provisional utility patent application.

  • Non-Provisional Utility Patent Applications:

    The formal and complete version of a patent application that is examined by the USPTO is called a non-provisional utility patent application. A non-provisional patent application must contain certain things, such as a written description of the invention as well as at least one claim, which legally defines the metes and bounds of the invention.

An experienced patent attorney will be able to help you determine if patent protection is right for you, and can help you with the patent application process. Obtaining patent protection on novel and non-obvious inventions is important for keeping others from profiting from your intellectual property. Please feel free to contact us today using the form on this page or call us at 855-473-8474.

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