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Patents Overview

A patent is an intellectual property right granted by the government of the United States of America to an inventor. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is the government agency responsible for examining patent applications and issuing patents

A patent gives the patent holder the right, for a limited time, to exclude others from making, using, offering to sell, selling, or importing into the United States the subject matter that is within the scope of protection granted by the patent. The USPTO determines whether a patent should be granted in a particular case. However, it is up to the patent holder to enforce his or her own rights if the USPTO does grant a patent.

There are three types of patents:

  • Utility patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof.
  • Design patents may be granted to anyone who invents a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture.
  • Plant patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plant.

There are two types of utility and plant patent applications – provisional and nonprovisional. A provisional application is a quick and inexpensive way for inventors to establish a U.S. filing date for their invention which can be claimed in a later filed nonprovisional application. A provisional application is automatically abandoned twelve months after its filing date and is not examined. An applicant who decides to initially file a provisional application must file a corresponding nonprovisional application during the 12-month pendency period of the provisional application in order to benefit from the earlier provisional application filing. A nonprovisional application is examined by a patent examiner, and may be issued as a patent if all the requirements for patentability are met.

Each year the USPTO receives approximately 500,000 patent applications. Most of the applications filed with the USPTO are nonprovisional applications for utility patents.