Patents are exclusive rights granted to inventors that exclude others from making, using, or selling an invention. There are three categories of patents: utility patents, design patents and plant patents.
These protect any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter. A utility patent protects how a device operates, including its inner workings and mechanisms. Utility patents last 20 years from the date of filing.
A design patent protects the ornamental design of a functional item, such as jewelry or furniture. Design patents last 15 years from the date of filing.
These cover plants with unique characteristics from other known forms of the same genus/species in their class or subclass. A plant patent refers to plants that are novel and distinctive in character and capable of reproducing their kind. Therefore, a plant patent protects only the particular variety. Plant patents last 20 years from the date of filing.
Why knowing the types of patents is important?
Knowing the types of patents can help inventors understand which patent is applicable to their invention. It also helps them understand how long their patent will last and what protection it provides.
Knowing this information could help decide whether to file a provisional application, non-provisional application, or design/plant patent application.
It also helps inventors become aware of items that cannot be patented. For example, living organisms or natural phenomena; abstract ideas; laws of nature; inventions that are not useful and purely aesthetic. Knowing the types of patents will help you protect your invention by providing what should be included in your patent application.
Inventors have also become alive to patents providing limited protection. Therefore, if they want to retain their patent, they should ensure that they maintain their patents. They could do this by submitting a timely maintenance fee payment.
Maintenance of patents
You can maintain patents by paying the required maintenance fee on time. Maintenance fees are due at intervals beginning with the filing date of any application subject to periodic filings or its priority date if it has one.
You must pay maintenance fees for a patent to remain valid beyond its expiration date. These fees allow the United States to monitor patents and ensure that they are still being used.
Patents which are abandoned due to a lack of maintenance fees will no longer be valid after their expiration date passes. If the maintenance fee is not paid on time, the patent application becomes abandoned by the law. Any non-payment of these fees may result in loss or forfeiture of the patent.
Like all areas of the law, patent law is more difficult to navigate than you might expect at first glance. If you are considering applying for a patent, retaining the help of an experienced patent lawyer is the best path to navigating a confusing process.