Patent advice begins with a basic definition. A patent is a legally binding document that provides inventors with control over their inventions. This includes how their inventions are made, what they're used for, and how they're sold. This will encompass a specified period of time.

At present, a patent is only valid for 20 years from the date you initially file. Only inventions that are proven to be unique will be granted a patent by the United States government.

Types of Patents

In the United States, three different types of patents are available. They are:

  • Utility Patents
  • Design Patents
  • Utility and Design Patents

Each of these patents is designed to protect a product or a design. A utility patent will protect the way something is used and how it works. A design patent will protect how it looks.

While many people seek out the counsel of a patent agent or attorney in the early stages, it's not necessary. If you're just beginning your design process, a patent firm won't be able to provide you with assistance related to prototyping, presentation, or commercial advice.

Utility Patent Applications

In the United States, there are two different types of utility patent applications. They are:

  • Provisional
  • Non-provisional

Each has their advantages (and disadvantages) relating to the timeline and cost of securing a patent. The most common patent for inventors is the utility patent. This will grant exclusive claims over an invention for a designated period of time.

Design Patent Applications

A design patent will protect the outward appearance of an invention. It's intended for new, ornamental, or original designs.

While some patents are valid for 20 years from the date of application, design patents are only valid for a term of 14 years from the date of issuance.

You should consider a design patent if the outward appearance of your invention is important. Unlike utility patents, design patents won't incur renewal or maintenance fees. Also, design patent applications will be assessed in the same manner in which utility patents are considered.

Plant Patent Applications

If you've invented and asexually reproduced a new plant varietal, you'll want to apply for a plant patent. This is granted by the government to either the inventor or the heir to the inventor. This patent does not apply to a tuber propagated plant or one discovered in a state that is uncultivated.

Provisional Applications

A provisional application is often more advisable than a non-provisional application because it can help you secure a filing date. This will afford you some peace of mind while you assess your invention and see if there's a market for your product. Once you've made your determination, you can secure a formal application. You'll want to secure a standard patent within the year to remain fully protected.

Any material that's not included in the provisional application won't be subject to the earlier filing date. Therefore, you'll want your provisional application to be as complete as possible.

Some people will use a provisional application to delay the cost of filing a formal application. This usually provides extra time to secure financing. The key here is to include an enabling disclosure. Whatever you do, don't omit information which will later be essential to your formal application.

Patent Costs

Provisional patents come with a higher total cost than a conventional application. Once the year has passed, you'll need to pay for the conventional application as well as any foreign applications.

In some cases, a provisional application may only delay the process. And an incomplete provisional application won't necessarily secure an earlier filing date. However, it's possible to file for more than one provisional application within those 12 months from the date you first filed.

If you choose to begin with a utility patent application, you'll have one year to decide if you need to file for foreign patent protection. With a provisional application, however, you'll need to file the United States and foreign applications simultaneously.

If you've ever seen "patent pending" before, this means someone has filed for a provisional or standard patent. This allows the owner to legally attest that their patent is pending. As time goes on, royalties, or payments, are issued in exchange for a patented invention's use.

If you need help with patent advice, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.