The most common type of patent is a utility patent. A utility patent may be granted to any new or improved process‚ machine‚ manufacture‚ or composition of matter. Inventions protected by utility patents have one common attribute‚ functionality. If the primary purpose of an invention is to serve some function‚ than the invention is eligible for a utility patent. Utility patents are in contrast to design patents‚ which apply only to ornamental designs and not to functional objects. According to the USPTO‚ over 90% of the patents issued in the last several years were utility patents.
While all patents must be novel and non-obvious‚ the key difference between a design patent and a utility patent is the usefulness requirement. In order to be eligible for patent protection‚ an invention must be useful. It must serve some function or practical purpose other than decoration. Furthermore‚ the USPTO requires such use to be credible. Credible use means that the invention or discovery is capable of actual use rather than a far-fetched theoretical use.
Notwithstanding the requirements set forth by the USPTO‚ the usefulness requirements is often considered the easiest element of patentability to satisfy. First‚ the invention or discovery can have usefulness purely for experimentation. Even if the inventor does not plan to market the invention to the public‚ the process‚ machine‚ manufacture‚ or composition may be useful in experiments and could receive patent protection for such use. Second‚ while the USPTO requires beneficial use for patentability‚ such beneficial use need not be revolutionary or groundbreaking. The utility of a patentable invention could be in entertainment‚ fashion‚ sports‚ or other fields.
What can be patented as a utility patent? Patentable subject matter includes any new process‚ machine‚ manufacture‚ or composition of matter and any new improvements of those. (For all patent requirements‚ see How to Patent).
A process patent is a patent that claims a process or method as the invention or discovery‚ rather than a machine‚ object‚ or composition. One well-known and controversial type of process patent is the business method patent. A business method patent claims a specific way of conducting business as a novel‚ useful‚ and non-obvious invention or discovery. While a general process patent may apply to a scientific or other non-commercial process‚ a business method patent pertains to a method for transacting business commercially. Examples of business method patents include Priceline.com’s system for hotel auctions‚ where the customer makes a bid on a price range and class of hotel in a certain area‚ and Amazon.com’s “One-Click” online purchase system.
A machine includes mechanical or other devices or combinations that perform tasks or functions. A patented machine could be used to perform a task or to create‚ destroy‚ or transform an object. Common examples of machines include ovens‚ stereos‚ or manufacturing equipment. A manufacture or manufactured article is something produced by a manufacturing process or machine. Common examples of manufactures include dental floss‚ chairs‚ or window blinds. In some cases‚ the same patented article could be both a machine and manufacture.
A composition of matter is a combination of two or more elements to form something new. Pharmaceutical drugs and herbal supplements are examples of compositions of matter. One important type of composition patents are Biotechnology Patents. Despite their differences‚ all four categories of utility patents receive a 20 year term of protection if a patent is granted.