Archive for December, 2011

Types of Patents

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

Types of PatentsThere were close to 800,000 patents granted last year around the world, according to the latest government agencies that track the statistics and information about these patents.  The top categories were computer technology, electrical machinery and equipment and telecommunications.  And, digital communications just barely fell out of the top 10 in the latest year, but has been higher in past years among all types of patents.  Medical technology and pharmaceuticals are also in the top 10 industries or market segments around the world with active patent applications and awards.  Historically, at least in the U.S. investments in medical research and pharmaceutical product development have always been at the forefront of patent awards. The latest data suggest that this trend continues.  Patents and inventions tend to follow the most popular business and economic trends. Or it may be the other way around. The inventions and innovations included in the patented products help to spur growth in these key areas.

What types of patents are included in these latest statistics?  If you have a new idea or invent something, what kind of patent should you apply for? The U.S. Patent and Trade Office (PTO) patent applications fall into three large categories or types.

Utility Patents

First, there is what’s known as a Utility Patent.  This type of patent is generally issued for the invention of a new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter. Patent applications can also be files for a new and useful improvement on an existing process.  When granted, these types of patents permit its owners to exclude others from making, using, or selling the invention for a period of up to twenty years from the date of patent application filing.  Continued patent protection for that period is contingent upon payment of maintenance fees to the PTO.  Approximately 90% of the patent documents issued by the PTO in recent years have been utility patents, also referred to as “patents for invention.”

Design Patents

The second group is called Design Patents.  These are issued for a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture.  If you design a new way to put together an artificial Christmas tree, for example, you can apply for a patent on that design.  Similar to Utility Patents, the Design Patent permits its owner to exclude others from making, using, or selling the design.  But that protection on the design is for a period of fourteen years rather than the 20 years with a Utility Patent.  Another key difference is that Design patents are not subject to the payment of maintenance fees.

Plant Patents

The third large group is called Plant Patents.  These are issued for new and distinct, invented or discovered asexually reproduced plants including cultivated sports, mutants, hybrids, and newly found seedlings, other than a tuber propagated plant or a plant found in an uncultivated state.  This patent permits its owner to exclude others from making, using, or selling the plant for a period of up to twenty years from the date of patent application filing.  And, like a Utility Patent, Plant Patents are not subject to the payment of maintenance fees.  Basically, the Plant Patents are the alternative used by growers, plant enthusiasts, and others instead of a Utility Patent. The concept is similar, but Plant Patents apply to unique and distinct plants rather than products or services.

Other Types of Patents

Outside of these three main types of patents, the PTO also issues or awards patents for a few other reasons, basically to correct errors or offer inventors more limited protections.  The Reissue Patent is issued to correct an error in an already issued utility, design, or plant patent.  Once awarded, it does not affect the period of protection offered by the original patent based on the original date of issue.  There is also what’s known as a Defensive Publication (DEF) or what is now known as a Statutory Invention Registration (SIR) issued by the PTO.  These – and the DEF has been phased out or replaced by the SIR – offer more limited protection as inventors and innovators discover or create new ideas and products. These last two are intended to be defensive in nature and provide a way for an inventor to prevent others from using or patenting the same idea, design or plant.

Provisional Patents

In addition to these key types of patents, and the market segments where they are most important, we are all familiar with the term “patent pending”.  The PTO grants patent pending status to an invention, design or new plant when a provisional application is filed.  Basically, the inventor or creator of the new product or idea submits an application to the PTO that temporarily prohibits someone else from using the idea.  Once the provisional application is submitted, the invention can legally be labeled as “patent pending”.  While this does not offer the same level of protection as an actual patent – only one person can be awarded a patent for an invention – the process does discourage others from trying to copy the idea.  Patent pending status is intended to protect inventors and their inventions while a more formal patent application process is being completed.


There are three main categorical types of patents. You will need to consult with a patent attorney to determine the best type of patent to file for your invention. Not only does it take time to create and invent and be innovative, but it takes time to file all the right patent documents as well – for all types of patents.

What Is A Patent?

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

What is a PatentHow good are your ideas and inventions? Can someone else do the same thing? The principle behind a patent is to protect your rights to make, use or sell what you have created or invented. Without that protection or patent, your ideas and inventions could be copied by anyone. The formal definition of a patent is a form of intellectual property that confers on the owner the exclusive rights to manufacture, sell or use that property for a specified period of time. If your ideas and inventions are good enough and unique, then you can be granted a patent to protect them.

A Patent is Real Property

What is the intellectual property included in a patent and how do you know if you have any? One way to think about intellectual property is to consider what is meant by “real property”. In the case of physical assets or real estate, there is something tangible (you and I can see it, touch it or otherwise know that it exists) that someone owns. Property rights and the benefits of ownership are well-known and established through laws and courts. Your sole right to ownership and the ability to use that property is protected. You can’t take or use someone else’s physical property or real estate without their knowledge or without compensating them in some way.

The same principle applies to intellectual property. Your ideas and inventions can be thought of as property that you own and have the rights to use. It’s intellectual property as distinguished from physical property only because we can’t see it or touch it. Nevertheless, intellectual property does exist. Along the same lines as physical property then, once it’s protected you can’t take or use someone else’s intellectual property without their knowledge or without compensating them in some way. Patents are designed to identify and protect your intellectual property.

Patents Require Substantial Documentation

Patents, because they are used as a form of legal protection, require detail and supporting documentation. When you create a new product or invent a new way to do something, in order for a patent to be granted, you have to show what you have done. In order for the government authorities – who grant or award patents – to evaluate your case, there must be enough evidence to show that your idea or invention qualifies as intellectual property. Without the details and a description of design elements or how the invention works, patents are typically not awarded.

Patents Make Your Information Public

How comfortable would you be about publicly sharing all of the details about your new idea? Most of us would not want to provide that information without some guarantee that others would not be able to use the information. So, patents basically grant to the inventor or creator the right to “exclude others” from using or the same thing you have. Patents do not include rights to use the idea or invention, but rather are intended to protect your rights of ownership. Like any other property rights, patents may be sold, licensed, given away, transferred or simply abandoned – just like any physical piece of property. The patent grants the inventor these limited property rights for a specific term, usually 20 years from the date of the patent application or submission.