• What are the three types of patents?

    Many people think that when they invent something and try to obtain a patent, there is only one type of universe patent, and that this universal patent fits all inventions. It is important to remember what a patent actually is. A patent is a federal grant from the government which gives exclusive right to the inventor to exclude all others from making, using, exporting, offering for sale, or selling the invention. There are three different types of patents that are issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office: a utility patent, a design patent, and a plant patent. The most common type of patents is the utility patent.

    Plant patents are much less common than design patents or utility patents. Plant patents cover a specific type of plants called asexually reproducible plants. Asexually reproducible plants are plants created through the use of cuttings and grafts instead of sexually reproducible plants that use the typical pollination method. Most often, new and different varieties of flowers are the asexually plants that people are looking to protect under a plant patent. Sexually reproducible plants are also entitled to protection, however, not under a plant patent. They can receive a monopoly under the Plant Variety Protection Act or sometimes under a utility patent. The plant patent lasts for 20 years from the date that the inventor files his or her application. The plant patent gives the inventor the right to exclude all others from selling, using, or reproducing asexually protected plants.

    The second type of patent that can be protected is called the design patent. Utility patents cover the actual function and utility of a new invention. A design patent, on the other hand, covers the ornamental or unique shape of a functional patent. Design patents look more at the outer packaging and its design whereas the utility patent looks at the nuts and bolts and inner workings of the invention. It is important to remember that the ornamental or aesthetic features cannot be functional in any way. If the ornamental feature has a functional use, a design patent will not be issued but you may be entitled to obtain a utility patent. When determining if you have a design or a utility invention, ask the question, “If I remove this feature, will the invention still function in the same way?” If the functionality of the invention will be impacted by removing the feature, it is not ornamental or aesthetic and will be covered under a utility patent and not a design patent. If the feature just adds an ornamental or aesthetic feature to the invention and the functionality will remain the same if the feature is removed, then the invention is covered under a design patent. The filing of a design patent differs from a utility patent in that the design patent application consists mostly of drawings of the features and the utility patent focuses on how the invention actually works. A design patent lasts for 14 years from the date that the patent was issued.

    The most popular type of patent that is issued by the United States Patent Office is the utility patent. A utility patent cover the inventions where the proposed patentable function has some kind of utilitarian function. A utility patent is issued to any new, non-obvious and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter. Courts have generally interpreted composition of matter to include genetically-altered living organisms and methods of doing business. Overall, the general rule is that anything under the sun that is made by humans is capable of receiving a utility patent. Some examples of utility inventions are computer software, automatic manufacturing processes, and genetically engineered animals. The inventor is unable to obtain a utility patent for abstract ideas, such as mathematical equations like e=mc². A utility patent lasts for a term of 20 years from the earlier date that the patent application was filed with the United States Patent Office, if the application was filed on or after June 8, 1995. For those applications that were pending, or filed on June 7, 1995 or earlier, the patent lasts for 17 years from the date that the patent was issued or 20 years from the earliest patent application date, whichever is later.
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