Our patent attorneys often receive questions on the distinctions between the different types of patents that are available. Patents of all types are granted for things that are useful, new, and non-obvious. Each type of patent gives the patent owner the exclusive right to make, use, sell or import the invention covered by the patent.
The Patent Act defines three different types of patents: utility patents, design patents, and plant patents.
The first and most common type of patent is a utility patent. The utility patent is issued for a new invention or new improvements on a current invention. Utility patents may be directed to useful processes, structures of matter, manufactures, or machines. When the utility patent is issued, the invention is protected for 20 years from the filing date. The owner of an issued a utility patent is required to pay periodic maintenance fees to keep the patent from expiring.
The second most common type of patent is a design patent. A design patent protects the shape, decorative design, improved ornamental appearance, and configuration of an article of manufacture. Unlike the utility patent, a design patent is enforceable for 14 years from the date it is issued and does not require maintenance fees to protect the patent from expiring.
The third and least common type of patent is a plant patent. A patent for a plant will be granted for discovering or newly inventing an asexually reproducing variety of plant. A plant patent is enforceable for 20 years like a utility patent, but, similar to a design patent, does not require any maintenance fees to be paid.
If you have questions about patents, contact one of our patent attorneys for answers to your specific circumstances.