Overview of Patent Types and Filing Requirements for the USPTO

There are several types of patents that provide different levels of protection for inventors. Utility patents, the most common type, cover new and useful processes, machines, compositions of matter, and improvements thereof. Design patents safeguard the aesthetic appeal or decorative design of a novel creation. Patents for plants are awarded in recognition of novel and unique cultivars. It is important for inventors to understand these different patent types to determine which one is most suitable for their invention and offers the best protection.

Examples of various varieties of patents

Utility patents pertain to the operational mechanisms of a particular product or process. For example, one could obtain a utility patent to safeguard their novel hair dryer invention. Utility patents are valid for twenty years.

A design patent pertains to the visual appearance of a product. It is irrelevant to the product's functionality; a design patent can only be obtained for a functional product or process. The duration of design patents is fourteen years.

A plant patent grants exclusive rights to the creator of a novel plant species, prohibiting unauthorized propagation by third parties or corporations. They, like utility patents, are valid for twenty years. In short, utility (how a product operates), design (how a product appears), and plant (new plant species) patents are the most prevalent categories of patents.

Reissue patents and provisional patents are two additional varieties of patents. Additionally, software can be patented. This form of patent describes the operation and intended outcomes of a computer process. The formal definition of patent eligibility for software is ambiguous; therefore, seeking the assistance of a patent expert may be necessary to ascertain the patentability of your invention.

Two varieties of utility patents exist:

• Provisional patent: This patent provides an extension of time to complete the preparation of a valid patent. Once an invention has been granted a provisional patent, it may be designated as "patent pending." A regular patent application (RPA) must be filed within a period of 12 months from the date of receipt of the provisional patent.

• Regular utility patent: This is a tangible patent with a twenty-year validity period. Upon the issuance of a conventional utility patent, the status of your invention transitions from patent-pending to patented. To reinstate a patent after it has expired, maintenance fees may be paid.

Additionally, various varieties of patent applications can be observed, which comprise the following:

• Reissue application: If a valid and unexpired patent becomes void or flawed for any reason, you are obligated to submit a reissue application. The purview of information in this application should be identical to that of the original patent.

• Divisional application: If an invention comprises multiple patentable parts, a patent examiner from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) may request a divisional application. Each application for a patent may only encompass a single invention.

• Continuation application: You may submit a continuation application if you need to add new matter to a patent that has not been abandoned or approved. It enables the patent examiner to consider newly acquired information.  The law forbids the inclusion of "new matter." The regulations apply to situations in which an individual endeavors to supplement a previously filed patent application with additional material. Incorporating additional materials and information during the application process is entirely permissible. 

An updated filing priority date will be communicated to you upon the submission of the continuation-in-part patent application. The newly established date will solely be applicable to the revised subject. During the lifespan of an earlier non-provisional application, a continuation-in-part application is a patent application that duplicates a significant portion or the entirety of the earlier non-provisional application while also including additional information that was not disclosed in the earlier non-provisional application. The act of submitting a continuation-in-part in response to rejections for a non-provisional application does not constitute an indication that the applicant is agreeing to or accepting said rejections. The continuation-in-part is unrelated to any denials that may have been encountered with the initial non-provisional application.

There are different sets of requirements for various patent types. Following the submission of your patent application, the USPTO will assign you a patent examiner. He or she conducts a comparative analysis of your application forms and existing patents.

Utility patents constitute the prevailing category of patents. Nonetheless, design patents are less expensive to obtain, so inventors frequently begin with them.

Why is knowledge of the various types of patents necessary?

To safeguard an invention, a patent is required. Otherwise, another person could manufacture and sell the identical product. A patent protects property that is innocent. Additionally, it enables innovators to develop novel products and procedures, thereby contributing to economic growth.

However, due to the existence of various patent categories, you will need to be aware of which one to submit. The USPTO will reject a design patent application based on the functionality of a product. A utility patent and a design patent are frequently sufficient to grant the required patent protection. Obtaining a design patent application in addition to a utility patent application may be advantageous if your invention possesses a distinctive design and is also unique in its structure and function.  An additional advantage is that the Patent Office will designate your invention as "patent pending" if you apply for a utility or design patent.   You are strongly encouraged to engage in a discussion regarding the course of action that is most suitable for your specific circumstances before proceeding.

Must be aware of the following requirements for each type of patent:

The USPTO awards design patents to creations that show their novelty, originality, and uniqueness. Additionally, the design must be applicable to a consumer-facing product. For example, a patent cannot be granted for a functional sculpture or painting. However, copyright is in place to protect those products. Although design patents are considerably more accessible to obtain, their enforceability is exceedingly difficult, and they generally lack significant value. 

A utility patent can be obtained on the condition that the utility of the product in question is both distinctive and non-obvious. The patent claim must be associated with the functionality of the product.

The USPTO grants approval for plant patents on plants that have not yet been discovered or established. In addition to asexual reproduction, the new plant species must be distinct.

When proposing a patent, the USPTO requires comprehensive information. For example, you are required to produce drawings, typically in black ink, that depict the design or functionality of an invention. Additional documents required consist of the following:

Each patent is required to include a solitary claim. It should succinctly articulate the purpose or distinctive design of the invention.

Use common language when titling a patent. Typically, titles consist of one to two consumer-recognizable terms, such as "belt," "bench," or "washing machine."

• Specification: The entirety of the written and visual components comprising a patent application.

• Cross-reference: This document asserts that your patent has priority. A catalog of current patent applications is required.

• Disclosure: The USPTO must be notified if federal or sponsored funds were utilized in the development of your invention.

• Context: Consider providing a concise account of the invention's origin.

Illustrations should be labeled with figure numbers. Each figure in a document should be labeled with plain text.

You may also include an abstract, which serves as a concise summary of the entire application.

Additionally, you must understand what your patent protects. If your invention is granted a patent, you will need the ability to defend it. Knowledge of the classifications and definitions of patents enables one to conduct a more exhaustive investigation.

When should a patent application be filed?

Although filing for a patent is not mandatory, doing so would be prudent to safeguard your rights to your invention. If you determine that a patent is what you need, you must submit your application as soon as possible. Patent issuance by the USPTO is predicated on the "first to file" criterion. That is to say, notwithstanding your initial invention, should another individual submit a patent application for the identical invention prior to you, they shall be granted the patent.

Approval of patent applications can also be a lengthy process. While the mean pendency is 28.1 months, certain patents have been granted approval in as little as 18 months.

When Should a Patent Application Not Be Filed?

If your invention does not meet the criteria for patent eligibility, refrain from expending resources and time on the filing process. Consult with a patent expert for assistance in determining whether your invention satisfies the USPTO's requirements.

If you are unsure of the commercial viability of your product, you may also wish to postpone submitting for a patent. Many brilliant concepts never materialize into commercially viable products. It may be unwise to invest in the patenting of an idea that will never generate revenue.

Additionally, conduct a patent search prior to filing a patent application. A patent search identifies potential similarities between your invention and other pending patents. You have the option of hiring a patent expert or conducting a patent inquiry on your own.

Illustrative Instances of Patent Types

Apple has obtained design patents for a considerable number of its products. The firm has, for example, submitted design patent applications for its distinctive iPhone.

• Utility patents: One of the most recognizable products to hold a utility patent is the hula hoop. Its patent safeguards its distinctive function.

• Patents on plants: Numerous cultivars of the poinsettia plant have been granted patents.

Uncommon Errors

Try to avoid the following frequent errors associated with different categories of patents:

• Incorrect patent: Refrain from submitting a patent application until you are certain that the proposed patent is accurate. Seek the assistance of a patent expert if you are even slightly perplexed.

A patent application may only include a single claim; an excessive number of claims is not permissible. Multiple patents are possible for the same invention; however, each patent is limited to a specific component of the invention.

• Extent: Prevent the submission of patent applications for any category in which the descriptions are excessively general. Patent trolls, individuals who purchase patents from other companies and prosecute them for infringement, could potentially target your organization.

The USPTO grants an applicant one year from the date of product availability for sale to apply for a provisional or non-provisional patent. You will no longer be able to obtain a patent for that invention if you delay. Additionally, the USPTO establishes restrictions on public use. Twelve months from the date of invention display, one may apply for a patent.

• Inadequate application: The USPTO may reject your application despite its merits if it lacks the necessary information. Constantly seek the assistance of a patent attorney or patent agent to submit a sound application.