Patents are crucial tools for creators looking to protect their inventions, innovations and intellectual property. Patents confer exclusive rights to creators, preventing all others from making, selling or using those inventions (and, generally, profiting from them) without permission for a prescribed number of years.
Patents fall into three main categories: utility patents, design patents, and plant patents. Understanding the difference between them can make it easier to protect your intellectual property both now and in the future.
What are utility patents?
Utility patents are the most common and versatile type of patent. They cover new and useful processes, machines and improvements to the functioning of existing inventions – and every product or enhancement requires a unique patent.Some examples of utility patents that have been in the news in recent years include Tesla’s Autopilot system and Novo Nordisk’s drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy.
What are design patents?
Design patents protect the ornamental or aesthetic aspects of an invention, or the “look” of something, rather than its functional features. These patents are particularly relevant for designers and creators of visually distinctive products and are often tied to a brand identity. Apple, for example, has many patents related to the iPhone’s appearance, so that they remain distinctive from Androids and other competitors. The unique fluted and contoured shape of a Coca-Cola bottle is another famous design patent – and still instantly recognizable today.
What are plant patents?
Plant patents are a specialized type of patent designed to protect new and distinct plant varieties that have been asexually reproduced, including cultivated fruits, vegetables (except tubers), ornamental plants and hybrids. The first plant patent in the U.S. was issued in 1931, for a type of climbing rose, and these flowers are still frequently patented today.
Depending on the nature of your invention, you may need to pursue one or more of these patent types to ensure comprehensive protection of your intellectual property, and this is not something you’ll want to try to handle on your own due to the complexity of the process and the high stakes associated with the outcome. Seeking experienced legal guidance is essential to navigate the patent application process and make informed decisions about which type of patent is right for your invention.