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Different Types of Patents Under United States Patent Law

October 18, 2021
Patents under U.S. patent law

A patent, as a type of intellectual property protection, applies to discoveries and inventions. Patents have been discussed previously on the Cardozo Online Blog, along with three other types of protections, which are copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets. In this post, we will delve into patent law in greater detail and learn more about the various types of patents in the United States.

The Three Types of Patents

Patents offer protection for a shorter period of time than copyright protections, usually being in place for 20 years.1 During that time, the patent holder has what can be considered a monopoly on using their invention. This protection is meant to encourage innovation and recognize the significant amount of time, money, and commitment that goes into creating something new.

Patents are registered through the United States Patent and Trademark Office, which sits in the Department of Commerce.

There are three types of patents under U.S. law. Utility patents are given to inventors who discover a new process, machine, or other useful improvement. The other two, design patents and plant patents, covering inventions in design and varieties of plants, respectively. Learn more about each of these patents below.

Utility Patents

This type of patent is likely what you first think of when discussing patents. The key to being able to get a utility patent is that the invention must be new and useful, and not obvious to other inventors in the field.

These patents apply to inventions in five categories2:

  1. Process
  2. Machine
  3. Manufacture
  4. Composition of matter
  5. Improvement of an existing idea

An invention can fall under one or more of these categories and still be covered under one patent that will stop anyone else from making, using, selling, or importing your invention.

Design Patents

Design patents, as the name suggests, apply to any surface ornamentation of an object or product, including the set up and shape of the object.3 This type of patent will only protect the look of the object, but in order to obtain a design patent, the inventor must ensure the design and the product are inseparable.

The important distinguishing feature between a design and utility patent to remember is that, while a utility patent requires usefulness, a design patent can only be aesthetic in nature and not functional.

Plant Patents

This type of patent is narrowly defined, as it will only be granted to those who invent or discover and asexually reproduce any distinctive or new type of plant.1 Typically, researchers or agricultural specialists are who will be applying for this patent.

There are some requirements that must be met to be granted this patent protection3:

  • The new plant cannot be a tuber propagated plant
  • It can be asexually reproduced (created by breeding or grafting)
  • It cannot be discovered in an uncultivated state (in other words, growing freely in nature)

Asexual reproduction is the main aspect upon which a plant patent hinges, because it proves that the inventor can duplicate said plant.4 It must also be distinct and original.

Learn the Different Types of Patent Laws at Cardozo

Registering a patent can be a complex and challenging process, meaning most inventors choose to work with a patent or intellectual property law lawyer throughout the process.

With an online LL.M. in Intellectual Property from Cardozo School of Law, you will build a deep knowledge base of how patent laws, and much more, are being interpreted—both now and in the past—to understand the intricacies and complexities of IP law. This knowledge comes from coursework taught by faculty who are studying the law and actively making an impact in how law is being practiced today. Learn more about our online LL.M. and its coursework today.

  1. Retrieved on October 7, 2021, from uspto.gov/patents/basics/general-information-patents
  2. Retrieved October 7, 2021, from nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/types-patents.html
  3. Retrieved October 7, 2021, from kashishipr.com/blog/understanding-the-different-types-of-patents-under-the-patent-law-of-the-us/
  4. Retrieved October 7, 2021, from nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/plant-patents.htmlturnover-is-so-costly.html