Patents have been around for centuries, with the first registered patent granted in the 15th century to Italian architect and designer Filippo Brunelleschi in 1421. Today, patents are used to protect inventions, designs, and plants from being copied or used without permission. There are three types of patents: utility patents, design patents, and plant patents. Utility patents, also known as “invention patents”, are the most common type of patent. They are issued in connection with new and useful processes, machines, manufactures, compositions of matter or improvements.
Examples of inventions protected by utility patents include a microwave oven, bacteria genetically modified to clean up oil spills, a computerized method for managing cash management accounts, and a method for curing rubber. Utility patents offer extensive protection against potentially competing inventions and can last up to 20 years from the date the patent application is filed. Design patents protect the design or image of a product. Examples of inventions protected by design patents are a design for the sole of running shoes, a design for sterling silver tableware, and a design for a water fountain.
Design patents are less expensive and easier to obtain than utility patents and can last up to 14 years from the date the patent was granted. Plant patents are issued to applicants for plants that can reproduce. Examples of plants protected by plant patents are sports, hybrids, seedlings, mutants and crops, other than plants that are uncultivated or that are potatoes or edible plants propagated by tubers. Plant patents can last up to 20 years from the date the owner files a patent application.
In addition to these three types of patents, the USPTO also issues legal invention records that offer limited protection to prevent others from patenting a particular invention, design, or plant. Inventors should consider protecting their inventions with one or more of these types of patents in order to prevent others from copying or using their inventions without permission. There are countless examples of interesting inventions that have been protected by these types of patents: advanced technical solutions and simple, intelligent ideas.