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The 3 types of patents: What are they, and which is right for me?

The invention process is rarely easy. It often requires massive amounts of time, effort and money and can take months or years. Now, after a grueling process of dreaming, development and trial and error, you have come up with an idea that you are ready to bring to life. Perfecting your invention was only the first step: Now comes the difficult process of acquiring a patent.

Many inventors mistakenly believe that patenting their invention will come easily, especially after the difficult invention process. This couldn't be more wrong. Getting a patent for your idea is a challenging undertaking in its own right. You may be wondering where to even start. The first thing you should do is understand the three types of patents in the United States-and decide which one is best for you.

1. Utility patents

Utility patents are what most people probably imagine when they think of patents. The most common type of patent, it protects things like processes, machines, manufactures and material compositions. You should consider a utility patent if you have invented:

  • A new tech process
  • A new type of computer, software or code
  • A new chemical compound
  • A different, novel type of machine or product

2. Design patents

In the world of patent law, "design" refers to the surface ornamentation of an object-in other words, how it looks. A design patent will only protect your invention's appearance, though: To protect its function, you would also have to file for a utility patent. You may be eligible for a design patent if you have designed:

  • A new look for a phone
  • The design of a wheel
  • The design of a household appliance
  • A computer icon

3. Plant patents

Some new, distinctive breeds of plant can be patented with a plant patent. There is one hitch: In order to be patented, your plant must be able to reproduce asexually. This is because you must have proof on your patent application that you are able to reproduce the plant. Plant patents can protect:

  • Genetically modified crops
  • Some crossbreeds of plants
  • New strains of marijuana

Obtaining a patent

Now that you have a better idea of the three types of patents, you may be even more eager to seek patent protection for your invention. The next step that you should take is to contact an attorney who specializes in patent law. Seeking a patent is a complex legal process that you should not go alone: A lawyer in your corner can help get the best protection possible for your intellectual property.

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