Method patent vs utility patent is something that confuses many patent seekers. A utility patent is granted to protect a product, device, process, or other invention that serves a useful and functional purpose. Since a method is a process, a method patent is a form of utility patent. In other words, if you want to patent a method, you need to apply for a utility patent.

What is a Utility Patent?

According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), about 90 percent of all patents issued in the U.S. are utility patents. A utility patent is a patent that protects an invention's utility or functional aspects. It is applicable to machines, methods, processes, compositions, and anything created or manufactured that has a specific, useful function.

To provide a clearer understanding of the term “useful,” the USPTO defines it as anything with a use capability and recognizable benefit. A utility patent can also be granted for an improvement to any of the aforementioned inventions. When they are reviewing a utility patent application, reviewers will look for functions and inventions that are novel, specific, and not obvious. However, the patent's function does not necessarily have to be instantly obvious to the user.

Lifespan of a Utility Patent

A utility patent is valid for 20 years from the time the patent application was submitted. Besides the initial filing fees, an inventor must also pay maintenance fees throughout the lifespan of the patent to ensure that his or her invention will be constantly protected. The inventor can apply for a term extension if he or she wants the patent protection to continue beyond the 20-year mark, but an extension is only available for certain patents and situations.

What is “Patent Pending” Status?

The purpose of a utility patent is to prevent others from manufacturing, using, selling, or distributing an invention. After applying for a utility patent, your invention will immediately have “patent pending” status, which serves as a disclaimer until you are issued an actual patent.

While it does not provide the same protection as an actual patent, “patent pending” status can be used to warn your rivals that they may be liable for damages if they duplicate, use, or sell your invention. A utility patent can be anything from a new kind of search engine that is dedicated to finding government websites to an innovative trailer hitch that has never been used before.

Claiming Specific and General Methods in a Utility Patent

Registered patent agents and attorneys include a number of specific dependent claims in almost every patent application. By reference or layer, these claims incorporate additional elements or limitations into independent claims, which are more general. The basic utility patent application fee you pay to the USPTO allows you to file up to 20 claims altogether and up to three independent claims. If you want to file more than 20 claims or three independent claims, you are required to pay an additional fee.

Also, you can amend, cancel, or add new claims while your application is being examined. In order to provide support for the amendments, you should submit a comprehensive and detailed description of an extensive range of embodiments of your invention at the outset, because you will not be able to claim embodiments that are inadequately described in the original application.

An attorney or inventor may draft general claims as long as there is sufficient basis in the description and the invention is novel and non-obvious. General claims give the inventor a more valuable patent, but it has a higher chance of being rejected if it is excessively broad. When you are claiming methods in a utility patent, keep the following in mind:

  • A claim must be given its widest reasonable interpretation while staying consistent with the specification as it will be interpreted by a person of ordinary skill in the field.
  • A broader claim should be drafted with extra caution and eventually cover the specific features of the invention. The inventor does not have to worry about the specific features if the broader claim can be secured.
  • If an inventor prefers specific claims, he or she can opt for dependent claims. In the event that the examiner objects to broader claims, the inventor can fall back on dependent claims and include specific features in independent claims.

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