Several types of patents are available to suit every kind of invention idea. Inventors will need to understand the features of their invention and then the scope of protection for each patent. The three basic types of patents available in the US are utility patents, design patents and plant patents.
Utility patents cover useful processes and devices while design patents cover the appearance of useful devices. Plant patents are designed to protect man made varieties of plants.
Once you select the patent type that best suits your invention idea, the next step is to file an application for that specific type of patent. As far as applications are concerned, you can choose to file a regular patent application, a non provisional patent application or a provisional patent application.
A provisional patent application will give you patent pending protection for up to one year, but it is only an interim application and you must follow it up with a regular, non provisional application during the 12 months after filing. For many inventors, provisional patents are useful for testing the market feasibility of their invention, without having to pay the large fees involved with a regular patent application.
When determining which types of patents you need, you should take into account the relative strengths of each type of patent. In some cases, you may want to consider more than one type of patent for a particular invention in order to achieve the maximum protection.
It is common for an inventor to obtain both a utility patent and a design patent to cover a single invention, but in general a design patent provides a weaker standard of protection than a utility patent.
The reason is that the scope of a design patent is determined by a court via a more subjective analysis which is based on whether an ordinary observer could tell the difference between an infringing design and the patented product.