Do you know what kinds of inventions can be protected? It's important for inventors and owners of intellectual property to understand the inventions they can patent, the types of patents available, and the laws governing patentability of inventions.

What Is a Patent?

A patent is an exclusive right granted to an inventor for a specific period as a reward for public disclosure of the person's invention.

What Is an Invention?

An invention refers to a process or product that aims to solve a specific technological challenge.

What Are the Essential Things in Order to Be Granted a Patent?

To be eligible for a patent, an invention must:

  • Serve a purpose
  • Must not have been done before
  • Must be non-obvious

The exclusive rights granted by a patent restricts other parties from unauthorized production, usage, importation, sales, or distribution of the patented invention. In this sense, a patent prevents others from profiting from your invention.

What Are the Three Kinds of Patents?

The three kinds of patents include:

  1. Utility patents
  2. Plant patents
  3. Design patents

What Is a Utility Patent?

A utility patent, or patent for invention, is a patent that involves creating an improved or new product or a new machine. The patent restricts others from recreating your invention without permission. Utility patents offer 20 years' right of exclusivity, provided the patentee pays the maintenance fees regularly.

What Are the Products That Can Be Associated With a Utility Patent?

Products that can be associated with utility patents include:

  • Software products
  • Machines and mechanisms
  • Chemical formulations such as pharmaceutical drugs, medical patents such as patient management software, physical therapy devices, and others

What Is a Plant Patent?

A plant patent refers to an invention of a natural, bred, or nonreproductive cells of a plant. To be eligible for a plant patent, it must be capable of asexual propagation through techniques such as root cutting, division, bulbs, budding, and grafting for the stability of the plant. You cannot patent plants whose uniqueness is due to soil conditions. Additionally, two inventors can claim a patent for a plant, including the person who discovered the plant and the propagator of the plant.

What Is a Design Patent?

A design patent is granted for the distinct visual appearance of a product. Plant patents can also be granted a design patent if the plant in question has a distinct shape. A vehicle with a unique headlight shape or distinct spoiler can also be granted a design patent. While these characteristics are visual, they also increase the value of the product and thus qualify for patents.

How Long Does a Design Patent Last?

A design patent grants the inventor exclusive rights for 14 years from the date of approval and does not require maintenance fees.

What Is a Trade Secret?

A trade secret refers to any information of value that is not known to the public and that the owner has taken reasonable steps to protect from public disclosure. This includes confidential information related to research and development, customer lists, business plans, and others.

You don't have to register your trade secrets with a government agency. All that is required to give your information the status of a trade secret is to keep it out of reach. The only people who should have access to your trade secrets are people who need to know about it, and you must sign a nondisclosure agreement before giving them access to the information.

When a person discloses your trade secrets to the public, it's your responsibility to prove in court that the information is your trade secret. You must prove the value of the misappropriated information as a trade secret, and you also have to demonstrate the protective measures you took to prevent its misappropriation. The implication of this is that you have to prove to the court that the information in question fits the description of a trade secret.

When Is the Trade Secret Protection No Longer Valuable?

The protection of a trade secret loses its value when:

  • The information is no longer valuable
  • The information has been disclosed to the public
  • The owner has stopped taking reasonable steps to protect its public disclosure

If you need more information about what kinds of inventions can be protected, 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.