What Are the Three Types of Patents and How Do They Work?

What Are the Three Types of Patents and How Do They Work

Which is the right patent for you? How can you strategize your startup’s patenting process? Find out!

For startups, patents can be super beneficial. From increasing your chances of securing funding to boosting your odds of getting acquired in an initial public offering (IPO)—there’s plenty to gain from patenting your inventions. A study by Mines ParisTech found that a startup that already has patents before a venture capital investment has about a 50% chance of succeeding within ten years of the investment. In comparison, startups that don’t boast patents have only a 30% chance. In addition to that, an MIT Sloan research shows that startups with a patent are 87 times more likely to grow than those with no patents. That patents play a significant role in determining your startup’s success is evident.

Given that, we look at what patents are and how you should go about acquiring them:

But first, what are patents?

Patents are legal protections of exclusive rights to a design or process. In simple words, it means that it prevents others from copying or imitating your ideas and products. This is the reason why you will see many products with slightly different designs these days. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) grants the inventor a limited monopoly over the invention for a certain time, typically 20 years from the date of filing. In Europe, Japan and the U.K., too, the maximum patent duration is 20 years from the date of filing. In the case of Europe and Japan, you might be able to extend the duration of your patent. 

Types of patents vary from country to country. For instance, in Australia, there are largely two kinds of patents: standard and inventions. In the Philippines and China, there are three types: invention, utility and industrial design. Here, we look at the most common types of patents in the U.S. As per a 2021 World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) report, the U.S. recorded the highest number of patents in force in the world—3.3 million. 

There are three types of patents, namely:

  1. Utility Patent

As per a Statista report, in 2021, 338,335 utility patents were granted in the U.S. It is the most common patent in the country. Utility patents protect functional inventions, like machines, tools, electronic devices and processes. This type of patent is granted to the inventor (or the owner) who invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture or composition of matter. For instance, a process could refer to how a certain piece of cloth is made; a machine could be a refrigerator; a manufacture could be any object that is manufactured, like a car or textile; and a composition of matter could be chemical compounds used in, for instance, a certain food or perfume. The term for utility patents in the U.S. is 20 years from the date of filing, as long as you keep paying the maintenance fees.

  1. Design Patent

From the curvy Coca Cola bottle of the early 1900s to the Statue of Liberty—many well-known items across the world have been granted patents for their design. Design patent refers to patenting a “new, original and ornamental design” of a functional item. In essence, this patent protects an object’s appearance. It protects the way an item looks without covering how it operates or its function. For instance, you can get a design patent for your new car frame that you have redesigned to make it look cooler and more sleek. It lasts for 15 years from the date of filing and requires no maintenance fees.

  1. Plant Patent

Dedicated to a region’s flora, the plant patent aims to protect new and distinct varieties of plants. As per the USPTO, only asexually reproducible plants can be granted a plant patent, as it guarantees that the patent applicant can duplicate the plant. In addition to that, you cannot get a plant patent for tuber-propagated plants, such as potatoes, or those found in an uncultivated state. This means the plant has to grow from seeds, not the stems or roots of the plants. Examples of plant patents include a new and distinct cultivator of African violet and a chrysanthemum plant named Organdy.

How to file for a patent?

It’s a simple five-step process:

  1. Figure out which patent is right for you. 
  2. File an application with the authorized organization. Your application could be provisional or non-provisional. Opt for the former if your idea is still in the development phase; you get 12 months to complete it. If you already have a complete idea, go for the latter.
  3. Pay the required fees.
  4. Undergo examination by the authorities.
  5. Maintain your invention and keep paying the maintenance fees, if necessary.

What are the top patent strategies used by entrepreneurs?

For one, they get a registered patent agent. Intellectual property attorneys are also good choices; they can help you file patents outside your home country if needed. You may also opt for an international filing under Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT). This filing enables you to register your invention in about 150 countries. Finally, you may just decide to go for the design patent if your idea is still in its initial stages of development, especially if yours is a fashion or lifestyle startup. If you want to be more hands-on with the product, this might be a good choice for you.

One thing that you should watch out for is that some entrepreneurs might unethically employ strategies, such as patent “blocking”, which might prevent you from “realizing the full values” of your own patents. Here, ‌entrepreneurs look for “patent-worthy” elements in a competitor’s inventions and patent it before the latter can. This way, they prevent competitors from exploring their product’s full potential. To avoid falling prey to this, ensure that your intellectual property (IP) is protected, both physically and digitally. Additionally, as soon as possible, patent your ideas without your competitors finding out. 

Ultimately, each type of patent has its own benefits and rules related to various aspects, like longevity and filing restrictions. Make sure to choose what best protects your invention or design in order to maximize its potential for success.

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