What are the Different Types of Patents Issued by the USPTO?

C. Njiraini

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is a United States government agency that issues different types of patents to people and businesses for their inventions and original ideas. It also provides trademark and servicemark registrations to entrepreneurs and businesses for their goods and services.

Businessman with a briefcase
Businessman with a briefcase

A patent is a legal document issued by a government to an inventor that protects the inventor’s idea from being used by anybody else or business for a certain period of time. The types of patents issued by the USPTO are enforceable in the United States only but the agency cooperates with the European and Japan patent offices. It also serves as an International Searching Authority by allowing people to search for other types of patents issued by governments around the world.

The USPTO issues three types of patents. These are design, utility and plant patents. A design patent protects the way something looks including the shape, configuration or decorations. This type of patent is usually filed by people or businesses that are not inventing new products but are improving the visual appearance of products that are already in the market. A design patent lasts for 14 years and is measured from the date the patent is granted.

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A utility patent protects the way something works and is used. This could be protection for inventing something new or for improving the functionality of something already in the market. A utility patent lasts 20 years and is measured from the filing date. It is possible to file for both design and utility patents if the inventions is original in its appearance and functionality.

A plant patent is given to an inventor who has discovered a new and distinct variety of plant that is asexually reproduced. A plant patent lasts 20 years and is measured from the filing date. The patent gives the owner the right to exclude other people from asexually reproducing or selling the plant or any of its parts.

Since the types of patents issued by the USPTO are enforceable only in the United States, to get protection in other countries, one must apply for a patent in those countries. Patent law is different from country to country and each application must be made in accordance to the patent law of the country. Successfully filing a patent in the United States does not guarantee successful filing of the same type of patent in other countries. For example, some countries require that the invention be manufactured in that country after some time of filing the patent. If it is not manufactured, the patent could be voided.

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