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How To Get a Patent

Find out how to get a patent to protect your idea or invention.

A patent protects a person's invention from being usurped by others. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
A patent protects a person's invention from being usurped by others.

A patent is the government-granted sole right to make, use or sell an invention for a set period of time. To protect a new idea or invention, pursue a patent through the United States Trademark and Patent Office (USPTO).

There are three main categories of patents issued by the USPTO: utility, design and plant. While land patents still exist, they are largely outdated forms of land ownership in which the government transfers the right to land to an individual. You can begin a land patent search through the Bureau of Land Management.

Unlike land patents, utility, design and plant patents are all still common, and provide a means of securing technology and idea ownership. In fact, the USPTO receives around 350,000 applications for patents each year.

Utility Patent

Utility patents can be provisional or non-provisional. The most common patent applications are for non-provisional utility patents. Utility patents cover new goods to be manufactured, new machines and processes and new compositions of matter or substances.

Provisional patents were instituted in 1995 as a lower-cost alternative for the first filing of a patent. A provisional patent expires after one year and does not require official claims, declarations or information disclosure. When a provisional patent has been granted, you may refer to your utility as having a "patent pending" but you will not complete the patenting process without also filing for a corresponding non-provisional patent. A provisional patent will allow you the opportunity to safeguard your ideas before completing development.

Among the requirements for a non-provisional patent application are a detailed description of the invention, an oath or declaration of your belief that you are the inventor of the utility, and a subject matter claim that delimits the scope of your intended patent. To view a guide for filing a provisional utility patent application, visit the USPTO's Web site. And to view the guide for filing a non-provisional utility patent, visit the USPTO's

Design Patent

A design patent covers new and decorative designs for articles of manufacture. The USPTO defines design as "the visual ornamental characteristics embodied in, or applied to, an article of manufacture," so a new jewelry design, for example, would be covered under a design patent. You can combine a design patent to protect the way a product looks with a utility patent to protect how it works and is used.

An application for a design patent requires a description, an oath or a declaration, and a claim like a utility patent application, as well as a preamble, a cross-reference to related applications, a statement regarding federally sponsored research, and drawings or photographs. For more information on what these elements entail visit the USPTO's Design Patent site.

Plant Patent

A plant patent covers new varieties of plants that can be asexually reproduced. Like utility patent applications, plant patent applications can be filed provisionally or non-provisionally. The requirements for a non-provisional plant patent application are also similar to those of the utility patent application, with some variations. To learn about the patent requirements specific to plant patents, visit the UPSTO plant patent site.

Many people find patent application much more manageable with the help of a patent attorney or agent. You can find a licensed attorney or agent on the USPTO's Web site.

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