Utility patents are the best way to protect most inventions. But to get one, you have to convince a USPTO examiner that your application is worthy.
Utility patents are by far the most common type of patent. Thus, the term “patent” almost always means “utility patent.” Nearly all of the famous patents in history – the telephone, light bulb, transistor, airplane, motion picture, were utility patents.
What is a utility patent?
Under US law, such patents are the type of intellectual property (IP). These cover: “a new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or a new and useful improvement thereof.” A “process” is a method of doing something. A “composition of matter” can be a drug.
Note the underlined new. You have to prove that the invention is original, and not just a trivial (obvious) tweak to some older prior art.
Here “useful” means that the invention must have some actual benefit (i.e., it isn’t clearly impossible or too illegal) and does more than just being decorative.
Utility patents are often the hardest type of IP to get. USPTO examiners usually attempt to use prior art to reject new applications. These rejections are called “office communications.” You must send in a written response rebutting these rejections. The review process may require several cycles of denial and response. If you do not successfully rebut the various rejections, the application goes abandoned.
Legally, a US patent gives the owner the right to sue to collect royalties/damages or to attempt to block someone else from practicing the invention in the United States. The patent claims determine the exact scope of legal protection. In practice, patents are most useful for financing, acquisitions, licensing, and other business purposes.
Types of utility patents:
Patent valuation: Patent valuation is dictated in large part by the desires of others to practice the invention. If a particular patent covers something that no one else wants to practice, it isn’t going to be worth much! The effectiveness of a patent in thwarting these desires (what the claims cover), and the invention’s potential market size, are also significant.
Your utility patent will typically have a 20 year lifetime. However, you will have to pay maintenance fees at 3-4, 7-8, and 11-12 years after issue. You may get some extra life if the USPTO delays for too long. At the end of this time, your utility patent will expire and become public domain. If you don’t respond to USPTO office actions, your patent application will also become public domain.