What Is a Patent?

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.

Design Patent

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.

Plant Patent

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.