This is the first in a series of basic info posts on the basics of intellectual property law. In particular, I’d like to focus on what is a patent and what kind of protection does it provide if you are able to obtain a granted patent.
To start, there are 3 types of patents: utility, design and plant. Design patents cover new and ornamental aspects of items of manufacture. An iPhone® smart phone or a Corvette® sports car are great examples of design patents. These have a life of 14 years from the date the patent is granted.
Plant patents are a particular type of patent that are directed to anyone who has invented or discovered and asexually reproduced a distinct and new variety of plant. Plant patent protection extends 20 years from the date of filing.
Utility patents are known to most people and cover articles of manufacture, methods of manufacture, compositions of matter, and business methods, typically used in the software and banking sectors. This last category of patents is presently in dispute but is not the subject of this article.
A utility patent must be useful, novel and nonobvious. A utility patent has a life of 20 years from the date of filing. However, once a patent is granted, maintenance fees must be paid to the US Patent and Trademark Office before 3.5, 7.5 and 11.5 years after issue, or the patent will expire.
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