A patent, as defined by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, is the assignment of intellectual property to a person or organization that allows them to exclude other parties from manufacturing, selling, or importing products outlined in the assigned patent’s claims.
Notice, this definition does not give a person the right to sell the new product, only the ability to restrict others from doing it. Also, if obtaining a patent in the United States, you will have to enforce the patent without the help of the United States Patent & Trademark Office, the issuing government agency.
There are 4 major types of patents:
Provisional Utility Patents
A provisional patent provides temporary protection of sorts – it lasts for 12 months and must be converted to a non-provisional patent in order for protection to continue. A provisional patent can be filed without a formal patent claim, oath or declaration, or prior art statement. The purpose of a provisional patent is to establish an early filing date for the future corresponding non-provisional patent while giving the inventor time to fully develop the invention and address the proper patent claims.
Non-Provisional Utility Patents
A non-provisional utility patent protects an invention that is a unique machine, device, chemical compound, method, or process for a period of 20 years. A utility patent is the most common patent protection sought by inventors.
A design patent protects intellectual property that defines the ornamental design of a particular object. Design patents are useful for protecting a specific form of furniture or jewelry.
A plant patent is a special classification that applies to the breeding of plants. This protection provides exclusive rights to a plant breeder that produces a variety that is new, uniform , and stable.
In addition to these USPTO patent types, you can also enter into the international patent ring with a PCT (Patent Cooperation Treaty) application. This procedure establishes a patent filing date with all the participating countries (most of the industrialized world). It is important to note though, this procedure does not actually result in a patent, you must follow up in each national or regional authority in order to be issued a patent.