The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) provides patent applications for utility, design and plant inventions. It classifies applications for utility and plant inventions into provisional and non-provisional applications. It does not use provisional and non-provisional applications for design inventions. International patent applications are also available. Patents protect inventors by prohibiting others from making, selling, importing or using a particular invention for a specified period.
Patent applications for designs cover unique drawings of a specific pattern or shape used for ornamental purposes. Designs are primarily decorative, not functional. A design could also be the actual object, such as the Statue of Liberty. Usually, the inventor of a design licenses his design to people or companies for placement on art, jewelry and other objects.
A utility patent protects inventions that perform some type of function beneficial to society. It protects how a particular invention operates. In contrast, a design patent protects the unique appearance of an item. Depending on the item, an inventor may need to file patent applications for both utility and design to fully protect his invention.
Patent applications for plant inventions are also available. Inventors seek this type of patent when they want to protect a particular type of plant they have developed. For example, a company that develops or invents a unique species of corn that can withstand various types of diseases may seek a patent to protect the plant. A company then grants a license to farmers to use the plant's seeds, if farmers want to plant that particular type of corn.
The USPTO classifies its patent applications for utility and plant inventions as provisional and non-provisional. When an inventor files a provisional application, he remains obligated to file a non-provisional application within 12 months after submission of the provisional application because the USPTO will not grant a patent based only on a provisional application. Inventors use provisional patent applications because they provide various benefits, including less costly fees, an opportunity to test market the invention, and provision of a filing date for the invention. Inventors failing to submit a non-provisional application within the 12-month period will lose their claim to a patent. After the inventor files the non-provisional application, the USPTO may issue a patent for the invention.
International patent applications allow an inventor to file a single application that will afford him protection for his invention in multiple countries for a certain period. This is possible in countries that have signed the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT). The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is responsible for implementing the PCT. This eliminates the need for an inventor to file numerous patent applications in several countries and allows the inventor an opportunity to determine how to best utilize his invention in numerous countries. The WIPO, however, does not issue an actual patent.