The Patent Process
In order to obtain a patent on an invention in the United States, a patent application must be submitted to the US Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO). The application must meet specific legal requirements and should properly capture the invention. Upon receiving a patent, the owner has the right to exclude others from making, using, selling, offering for sale, or importing the patented invention in the United States.
It is typically preferable to perform a patent novelty search prior to preparing and filing a patent application. A patent novelty search looks for "prior art" that may prevent a patent from being allowed and thus provides useful information to assist in determining whether to proceed with the patent application process.
Utility patents are issued for processes, machines, manufactured articles, compositions of matter, or improvements to any of these. There are two types of utility patent applications: provisional and non-provisional applications.
A provisional utility application is active for 1 year, but will not issue as a patent. It serves to secure a filing date that can be relied upon by a later filed non-provisional application for the invention disclosed in the provisional application. A non-provisional utility application is substantively examined by the USPTO for patentability and is the type that issues as a patent. Utility patents are effective for 20 years from the earliest non-provisional application priority date with payment of periodic maintenance fees.
A design patent protects the ornamental design (external appearance) of an article of manufacture. A design patent is effective for 15 years from the issue date.