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What Are The Different Types of Patents?

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) can issue three types of patents under the authority of the US Code Title 35. These three types of patents are (1) utility patents, (2) design patents, and (3) plant patents. There are actually three other types of patents, however, they are subcategories of the main three mentioned above. In total, six types of patents will be elaborated on below. Regardless of which type of patent is chosen, in order to be patentable, the invention must be novel, non-obvious, and adequately described. That said, these types of patents can help to protect intellectual property — and you should know the ins and outs of patents.

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Utility Patents

This is the most common type of patent. It protects the way an invention is used for 20 years from the date the application was filed. There are also 5-year extensions, that may apply depending on the type of invention being patented. Overall, there are two types of utility patent applications that can be filed. The provisional patent application puts applicants in the US on equal footing with foreign applicants. The non-provisional patent application allows the inventor to protect their creation for several iterations/variations until a final design is settled. The application gives inventors a 12-month period to test and further develop their inventions.

Design Patents

These patents only protect the appearance and don’t protect the invention’s structural features. The application for this kind of patent may relate to the configuration/shape of a manufactured article or its surface ornamentation. Inventors should know that the design for surface ornamentation must be a definite pattern. It is also important to remember that when a design is dictated primarily by the function of the object and lacks ornamentality, it will not be classified as proper statutory subject matter, and therefore cannot be patented. Specifically, the test is whether there was a unique/distinctive shape to the object that is itself not dictated by function.

Plant Patents

These types of patents allow an inventor to obtain protection for inventing/discovering and asexually reproducing a new variety of plants. Asexual reproduction can include root cuttings, layering, budding, and grafting. Essentially, this requirement limits the patent protection to plants created through breeding. Note that the statute excludes tuber-propagated plants as well as plants found in an uncultivated state.

The elements of this type of application include things such as; an application transmittal form, fee transmittal form, data sheets, patent specifications, drawings, and an inventor’s declaration/oath. The specification will include things such as the formal title of the invention, cross-references, information about the federal research that was conducted, a detailed botanical description, etc. It is important for inventors to remember that the claim should not be directed toward the fruit/flower part of the plant. Instead, the claim must specify the plant/tree itself.

Business Method Patents

This is a type of utility patent that protects a business process as opposed to a physical object. Essentially, the patent allows the owner to control the rights to that business method during the life of the patent. This in turn means the patent owner can prevent other companies from using the process.

There are four main requirements for patenting a business method. First of all, it is crucial that the business method has patentable subject matter, as opposed to being an abreact idea. Secondly, the patent must meet the usefulness requirement, which essentially states that the patent needs to have a real and reasonable use in society. The next requirement (third) is a novelty, which states that the business method must be different from any previous invention that has been registered. Last but not least, the business method must bot be obvious, meaning it must produce a new result that is unexpected to someone in such a field.

There is a certain statute that is important to recognize in the context of business method patents. Specifically, this is the Patent Reform Act (2011). This piece of legislation imposed certain restrictions on business method patents, mainly by excluding future patents for tax strategies. Another change that came from the statute was that it provided an eight year period in which anyone can ask the US Patent Office to conduct a review of the validity of any existing business method patent.

Improvement Patents

There are two main types of improvement patents; (1) addition inventions and (2) substitution inventions. The former involves adding a component that was not previously part of the product (or business method). The latter involves replacing a certain product or process with a new one. It is important to note that for this second method, the replacement must be more efficient will still accomplishing the same purpose. If it does not accomplish the same purpose, there could be an argument that the invention falls under a strictly new patent.

New Use Patents

This involves recognizing that an existing patented product can be used for a purpose that is different from that it was filed to be used for. It is important to note that, in order to actually obtain a new use patent, the new purpose must be sufficiently different.

Final Remarks: The Main Types Of Patents

Overall, the six main types of patents that can be filed in the United States have been explored in this article. As a brief reiteration, they are:

  • (1) Utility patents
  • (2) Design patents
  • (3) Plant patents
  • (4) Business method patents
  • (5) Improvement patents
  • (6) New use patents.

Note that the final three types of patents are actually sub-types of the first three types that were mentioned. However, all six types and sub-types of patents each have their own procedural requirements and use cases where they are most desirable. In conclusion, when starting a new business, it is imperative to conduct the needed research, and in turn, file for the appropriate patent.

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