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Patent Basics

In order to qualify for a patent, your invention must be:

  • New
  • Unique
  • Non-Obvious

Full disclosure: The inventor must fully disclose how the invention is made in the patent application.

Date of Public Disclosure: The patent application must be submitted within one year after public disclosure is made regarding the invention, or within one year of the invention being sold or offered for sale. The date of public disclosure may be less than one year in other countries, so it is important to be aware of other countries' policies if you intend to submit a patent application outside of the United States.

For more information about patentability, click on General Information Concerning Patents at

Types of Patents and Patent Applications

utility patent is granted for a process, machine, manufacture, composition of matter, or a new and useful improvement thereof.

Protection: This type of patent protects the invention's structural or functional features.

The Application: A utility patent application must describe the invention so that one skilled in the technology can make and use it. It must also include claims which define the invention in words.

Duration: A utility patent is awarded 20 years from the date of filing. Filing a provisional patent application first adds another year to the life of the utility patent.

USPTO's Process for Obtaining a Utility Patent

Fire Escape Patent Number US 269268

A provisional patent application allows the inventor one year in which to complete the non-provisional patent application paperwork. The description of the invention and drawings must be stated in the provisional application and should be very similar to those submitted in the non-provisional patent application to establish the earlier filing date that a provisional patent application provides.

This kind of application allows for the use of the phrase "patent pending" on a manufactured item and allows for the early registration filing date. However, if the non-provisional patent application is not filed within the 1-year timeframe, the inventor loses the benefit of the earlier filing date. Note: Foreign patent applications do not have the one year grace period of a provisional patent application, so a patent application must be filed before any enabling disclosure of the invention is made public. If an inventor plans to file in another country, s/he might want to avoid the provisional patent.

A design patent protects the ornamental design or aesthetic appearance of an article of manufacture.

Protection: This type of patent protects the appearance of the invention, not its structure or utilitarian features.

The Application: A design patent application will only have one claim that protects the ornamental design of an invention.

Duration: A design patent is awarded 15 years from the date of filing.

*An inventor can file for both a utility and a design patent on the same invention.

Design for a Chair Patent Number US Des. 126710

plant patent is granted on any distinct and new variety of an asexually reproduced plant, including cultivated mutants, hybrids, and newly found seedlings, other than a tuber propagated plant or a plant found in an uncultivated state.

Duration: A utility patent is awarded 20 years from the date of filing. 

*As a PTRC library, Plant Patents are housed physically in our compact shelfing.*

Example: Hosta Plant Named "Old Glory" - US PP12,503

Scanned image courtesy of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Library at the University of Maryland.

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