It is important that an inventor understand that once an invention is sold, offered for sale or otherwise publically disclosed, the inventor only has twelve (12) months to file a patent application with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. If the invention has been sold, offered for sale or publically disclosed more than one year ago, it is no longer eligible for a patent.
In the United States there are three (3) types of patents: utility, design and plant. What should be filed for your invention?
A utility patent is obtained by filing a utility patent Application with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. A utility patent is what most people think of when they think of a patent. A utility patent protects the structure and function of an invention (i.e. its utility). Utility patents last for 20 years from the filing date of the patent application, provided maintenance fees are paid. Maintenance fees must be paid when a utility patent is 3 ½ , 7 ½ , and 11 ½ years old.
As an example, below is a drawing from the utility patent for the Super Soaker® water gun.
Utility patents are large documents (4000-6000 words plus 3-6 illustrations). In a utility patent, all the workings of the invention must be illustrated and described in detail.
A design patent is obtained by filing a design patent Application with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. A design patent only protects the way a product looks, i.e. its appearance. As such, a competitor is free to make the same type of product, provided is does not look like your design. Design patents last for 15 years. Design patents do not have maintenance fees.
As an example, below is the cover for the design patent for the Super Soaker®. Yes, you can have a both utility patent and a design patent for the same invention.
Design patents are mostly illustrations of the exterior of an invention. The workings of the invention are not described.
A plant patent is obtained by filing a plant patent applications with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. Plant patents are used to protect newly developed plants or flowers. A Plant patents last for 20 years. Plant patents do not have maintenance fees.
As an example, below are design patents for variations of the poinsettia plant patented in the 1930’s.
Provisional patent applications are can be filed prior to the filing of a regular utility patent application.
A provisional patent application is temporary. Provisional patent applications do not become patents. Provisional patent applications are used to obtain a priority date for an invention at the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. However, once a provisional patent application is filed, a person must file a regular utility patent application within one year of filing the provisional patent application. If a regular utility patent application is not filed, the provisional patent application will automatically become abandoned when it is 1 year old.
Provisional patent applicants are not published and cannot be searched.