Utility patents

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. 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. As a result, you need to show that your invention has some actual benefit. However, if you have a decorative invention, consider a design patent.

Utility patents are often the hardest type of IP to get. This is because the USPTO examiners usually attempt to use prior art to reject new applications. The USPTO sends out these rejections as “office communications.” To respond, you must send in a written response rebutting these rejections. In all, this review process may require several cycles of denial and response. Note that 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. This largely determined by the patent claims, which define your legal protection. Since lawsuits are undesirable, patents are mostly used for financing, acquisitions, licensing, and other business purposes. 

Types of utility patents:  

US utility patents often start as US provisional patents. However, if you want to keep going, you must refile it within 12 months as a non-provisional patent.  Additionally, If you want an international patent, you must file it within 12 months of your initial US filing (provisional or non-provisional).

Patent valuation: Patent valuation is dictated in large part by the desires of others to practice the invention. As a result, if a particular patent covers something that no one else wants to practice, it isn’t going to be worth much! 

Your utility patent will typically have a 20 year lifetime, assuming that you pay the maintenance fees. You will also get some extra life if the USPTO examination delays are too long. But, in the end, once its lifetime is up, your utility patent will expire and become public domain.