What is a Patent and How to Patent an Idea?


This is the third in a series of quick primers on intellectual property issues. Previously discussed were Copyrights and Trademarks.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office [USPTO] registers patents for inventors. What types of things can be patented? There are three types of patent applications you can file:

Design Patent. This type of patent is for ornamental characteristics of functional items, like designing a different looking soda bottle.

Plant Patent. This is for any new variety of a plant that a plant breeder or grower creates through asexual reproduction.

Utility Patent. This is for creating a process or machine used in manufacturing.

A Utility Patent is the most common type of patent. It is used by inventors to patent the creation of some aspect of the manufacturing process of any type of product. For example, if you created a new machine that would remove the unpopped popcorn kernels from a bag of microwave popcorn, you would submit an application for the machine.

You can submit either a provisional or non-provisional application. The provisional application is the quickest method to obtain immediate protection for your invention. It gives you a filing date that shows that you’ve created something tangible, useful, and unique. After applying for a provisional application, you have 12 months to file a non provisional application to secure your patent. After that, your provisional application is considered abandoned and will not be examined by the USPTO.

Over 500,000 patent applications are filed with the USPTO each year. Patents have limited duration, depending on the type of patent.