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A utility patent covers the concept of an invention. It requires a detailed description of the invention, including the structure and how it works. It also includes at least one claim -- the legal definition of the invention. The claims of the patent are usually not limited to details such as dimensions or even shapes and materials. That results in broad claim coverage and, therefore, a valuable patent. A utility patent provides you with the strongest patent protection available and is enforceable for up to 20 years from the filing date. Maintenance fees are required every 4 years for the first 12 years after the patent issues. When your utility patent application has been filed, your product may be referred to as "patent pending." When the patent issues, you are advised to print the word "patented" on your packaging or stamped on your product itself. Organizations and people who are manufacturing the invention or product are encouraged to seek a utility patent in order to help prevent their competition from making and selling similar products. If you expect only to license your invention, a utility patent is almost always required. This is because the licensee is generally not interested in paying you for rights to make and sell products if it cannot count on preventing the competition from entering the market with a similar product.


Filing a provisional patent application preserves the inventor's right to file a regular, or non-provisional patent application within one year of the filing date of the provisional application. This earlier date may prevent another party from asserting intervening rights if the party files a patent application between the provisional and non-provisional filing dates and that party has invented the same invention. Be sure to convert your provisional patent application into a non-provisional application within the one year, or you will never receive an issued patent for your invention. Although the Patent and Trademark Office will accept very little description of the invention and very rough hand sketches of the drawings, you are strongly advised to make your provisional patent application as complete as possible, providing all of the standard parts of a regular patent application and even including at least one claim -- the legal definition of the invention -- with your provisional patent application. When the provisional patent application has been filed, you may refer to your product as "patent pending." The filing fee for a provisional patent application is less than that of a non-provisional patent application.


A design patent covers the ornamental design (shape and surface materials) of an invention, but not the concept of the invention. To cover the concept, you must obtain a utility patent. A design patent is enforceable for up to 14 years after it issues and no maintenance fees are required over the life of the patent. The filing and issue fees for a design patent application are less than those of a utility patent. When the design patent application has been filed, you may refer to your product as "patent pending" and when the patent issues you are encouraged to print the word "patented" on the packaging for the product or on the product itself. Organizations and people who are most likely to seek design patent protection are those who are manufacturing the invention or product and who do not intend to change the design of the product in the foreseeable future. Remember, a design patent does not protect your concept, but merely the shape, ornamentation and materials of the specific product you manufacture.

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