Intellectual Property Primer – Patents

by admin

patentA patent gives the patent owner the exclusive right to prevent others from commercializing his patent for a specific time period.  If someone infringes a patent, the patent holder can sue the infringer to stop and seek damages, attorney’s fees, and court costs.

Since the patent application process can take up to 2 years to complete, it’s best that you hire an experienced patent attorney who is also well-versed in your particular technology.  She can draft the patent application anticipating issues that may come up and technological developments.

Patent rights can protect inventions, designs, and processes.  Yes, patents can extend to human genes too.  There are generally three types of patents: utility, plant, and design.


Utility patents are granted for inventions of machines, processes, articles of manufacture, or composition of matter, so long as they are novel, non-obvious, and useful.

“Novelty” means the invention is new and not previously patented, described, or anticipated.  Sorry, you probably can’t patent a time machine because even though it hasn’t been invented yet, it’s been described countless times (we are ignoring the laws of physics for this discussion).

“Non-obviousness” mean the invention, in light of the “prior art,” is not obvious to a person skilled in that art.

“Useful” means, well, useful.  Unlike these patents.


Plant patents are for plants and are not likely to be useful for most entrepreneurs.  Unless you’re designing a tomato plant that needs minimal watering.  If so, where have you been all my life?


Design patents are granted to protect new, original, and ornamental designs for an article of manufacture.  It must meet the criteria for novelty, non-obviousness, and ornamentation.


Here is a table comparing the three kinds of patents.


Utility Plant


Novel Yes – must be new and not previously patented Yes Yes
Non-obvious Yes – must not be obvious to someone with person skilled in the art Yes Yes
Useful Yes – must have benefits that must be disclosed No
Ornamentation No No Yes
Distinctive No Yes No

Length of Protection

Plant and utility patent protection lasts 20 years.  Design patents last for 14 years.



(image courtesy of USPTO)

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