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What is a utility patent?

When inventors talk about patents, they're usually referring to utility patents. This is because utility patents cover the most common categories of invention: they're granted for inventions that produce a new and useful result (as opposed to design patents, which protect purely ornamental designs on useful objects).

For your invention to qualify for utility patent protection, it must fall into one of the following categories of subject matter:

  • Machines, which are generally composed of moving parts (such as a clock or an engine)
  • Articles of manufacture, which are generally useful items with few or no moving parts (such as a screwdriver or bolt)
  • Processes, which are stepwise methods (including software and methods of doing business)
  • Compositions of matter, which include compounds and mixtures (such as man-made proteins and pharmaceuticals)

When should I file my utility patent application?

It's important to file your application as soon as possible after your invention is complete, because the first person to file a patent application will almost always be considered the inventor. Timely filing of a patent application has other benefits as well. Once the application is filed, you're free to label your invention "patent pending," which will put potential infringers on notice. If a patent is granted, the inventor may seek royalty payments from any person who made or used the invention during that "pending" period, including any provisional period.



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