A patent grants an inventor an exclusive right to own a design, invention or design process for a given time. The individual or group discloses this information for an exclusive right to own that invention for a period, usually between 10 years and 20 years. As of 2023, the United States Patent and Trademark Office– the institution saddled with the responsibility of issuing patents has already issued over ten million patents. 

Image Source- Official website of USPTO

Types of Patents

If you reside in the United States, there are three patent types you need to be conversant with when attempting to secure a patent for an invention. Knowing these three types will help you properly fit your invention into the relevant type. The three types of patents are; 

  • Utility patents
  • Design patents
  • Plant patents

Each of these patent types has its specific process and duration. Although most inventions fall into one of the three categories, some fall into more than one category. Let us delve into each of these patent types.

  • Utility Patents

The office grants this legal protection to an applicant seeking to patent a new and relevant process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter.

A new process, method or way of producing something or any device generally categorized as a machine, including a computer, a mixture of ingredients, a newly combined chemical compound, or a manufactured good, can be classified and registered as a utility patent. 

After you file the utility request for patents, the patent term can last up to 20 years. Additionally, you must pay annual maintenance costs to keep utility patents protected by law.

  • Design Patents

If you seek to be offered a design patent, then that design has to belong to you, be new, and have a definite design that makes it completely unique and relevant. A design patent will usually only cover the ornamentation of the invention or product. If the content or the design process has to be patented, then a utility patent is also filed. A typical example of that is the bespoke glass bottle of Coca-Cola company

A design patent usually lasts 14 years from the filing date, and no maintenance fees are attached to a design patent. 

  • Plant patents

A company or an individual that has researched and developed a new kind of plant that can be reproduced can apply for a plant patent. Hence, they secure their invention and do not allow another company that did not research to profit from their rival’s research. 

An asexual plant will pass for approval, and even though a sexually produced plant (a plant produced by seed) can also be approved, it has to be reproduced asexually, too. Plants that reproduce asexually do not generate seeds but are planted by grafting or cutting. For patenting purposes, plants must be propagated asexually. Evidence of the applicant’s ability to reproduce the plant via asexual means must also be submitted. 

A plant patent usually lasts 20 years from the day of filing and does not require any maintenance fees. 

Examples of Patents

Industries over the years have come up with different types of cutting-edge technologies that have set the pace in their relative fields. Below is a list of several patents, most of which are for prominent companies. 

Image source – Wikipedia

How to Apply for a Patent

The application process for a patent will vary from country to country, depending on the country’s laws. The underlying fact is that a patent gives an inventor exclusive ownership of an invention. The person filing for a patent must have done thorough research on the invention to be sure that it is original or an improvement on an existing invention. 

In the US, any individual or institution seeking a patent must do so through the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). A patent application requires the submitter to pay fees and provide specific papers. The patented article’s claims, drawings, and descriptions are all part of the written record. The inventor must authenticate the document with a signature and submit a formal document that verifies the creation or improvement of an existing invention. The office evaluates, accepts, or rejects the application when you pay the fee.

Provisional and Non-Provisional Patent 

A Provisional Patent is an application that discloses the innovation to secure a priority date. This kind of application allows the inventor to keep working on the invention since this kind of filing does not require the one filing for it to submit all the necessary documents and claims needed for the USPTO to commence their checks on the invention. 

A provisional application, valid for twelve months from submission, provides a priority advantage to the applicant. If a non-provisional application is filed within the same twelve-month period, the benefit from the provisional application is transferred to the non-provisional application. The priority advantage is lost if the non-provisional application is not submitted within the same time. 

However, it is crucial to remember that submitting a provisional application does not give you any legal rights to your innovation—simply the authority to advertise that the idea is patent pending and to keep an early filing date.

A Non-Provisional patent application is a rather formal and complete application that begins to undergo a critical examination by the USPTO. Unlike the provisional application, a non-provisional application requires details such as the up-to-date legal scope of the invention, drawings, specifications and process of that invention. 

If you have filed a provisional application before, you must file the non-provisional application within one year for successful processing. Once the office approves your application, they will issue you a patent that grants you exclusive rights to restrict anyone from creating, using, or selling your innovation. However, most of the costs of the patent process emerge when planning and prosecuting a non-provisional application before the USPTO.