What is a Utility Patent?

A utility patent is one of several types of patents you may be able to obtain if you plan to create and build an invention. This specific type of patent is important for the invention of something new or a significant improvement on an existing product. It can also apply to a process or a machine. This is the most commonly understood form of a patent, though there are several other forms that may be better for your invention. Here’s what you need to know.
About 90 percent of all patents that the USPTO receives and approves are utility patents. Because they are so important, it is also essential that you understand how they work and how to get them.

Utility Patent Overview

Like all patents in the country, the United States Patent and Trademark Office, also known as USPTO, is the issuing body for this form of patent. When a person successfully secures a utility patent, he or she is given exclusive rights to the property. There are numerous steps in this process, and they can be quite difficult to manage. Yet, utility patents are the most common form.
This type of patent protects the creation of a product, process, or a machine. That is, it stops other people from using or making the same thing. It also prohibits them from selling the invention without the proper authority from the patent holder.
If you are creating an invention of any type, you will go through a detailed process that demonstrates to the USPTO that your invention is new or is an improvement that is useful to an existing product, machine, or process. Once you do this, and the USPTO agrees that it is new, the agency then issues you the patent. Keep in mind that having this type of patent is very valuable. It provides exclusive rights, providing some of the most important control over the invention for the inventor.
The problem is, utility patents are also very hard to obtain. There are multiple steps to obtaining one, requiring detailed and complex diagrams of the patent. They can also be more expensive to undertake, which makes it even more important to fully understand the process and what to expect from it.

How Can You Secure a Utility Patent, Then?

There are various ways to do so, but the goal here is to understand how to go about the process whether you try to do it on your own or you hire a professional to help you. Utility patents must provide an incredible amount of detailed information. According to the USPTO, that includes:

  • The utility patent application transmittal form or a transmittal letter
  • All associated fees
  • Application data sheet
  • Specifications which should include at least one claim for the invention
  • Drawings (generally done professionally) when necessary
  • Executed oath or declaration
  • Nucleotide and amino acids sequence listing when necessary
  • Large tables or computer listings, when necessary

You can follow the specific process through the USPTO website. However, here’s a short guide to how to get a utility patent (this is a very condensed version).

  • Your first step is to break down what the invention is clearly. It’s important to do this in a way that shows the essentials of the invention separate from the nonessential parts. Break down each component of the invention in detail.
  • It is very common to need to invest in significant utility patent research. The goal here is to find out if anyone has ever patented or published anything that is similar to your invention. Even if it is not the same if it is similar that needs to be considered.
  • You will need to submit all of the teaching documents to the USPTO. These are documents that showcase the invention and follow the USPTO’s guidelines about describing your patent. There are numerous forms with various sections (all of which you can obtain from the USPTO directly). Each form has requirements not just for what is included but also for the formatting of them.
  • Diagrams and drawings are a very common part of patents like this. They need to display the invention, when possible, but also need to show how the invention works. This allows the researcher to understand how they work.

All of this information must be submitted to the USPTO in great detail and with a careful eye for following their rules. Any limitation here can result in the patent being denied.

What Types of Utility Patents are There?

To further complicate the understanding of utility patents, you must also consider the various types of them. The U.S. Code shows us there are five different types, including:

  • Composition of matter
  • Machine
  • Manufacture
  • Process
  • Improvement of an existing patent

When you are creating your patent application, you will need to ensure it is clear what this actually is for your invention. However, some inventions can fall into multiple areas. No matter how many categories it falls into though, you can only obtain a patent in one area.

What Does a Utility Patent Protect?

This particular type of patent falls under Title 35, Part II, Chapter 10, Subsection 1010 of the U.S. Code. This is the section of the code that explains the details of what the utility patent provides, protects from, and requires.
Utility patents have the goal of protecting your ideas that are considered both novel and useful. For example, the patent provides protection for something new that you have thought up and developed. It has to be something that has never existed before or has never been published before. If the item is not new but is a significant improvement on an existing invention, the new invention will only be given a patent if the changes are useful and also non-obvious. Proving that an invention is novel is the hardest part of the process, but it is the most critical as well.
The second component here is that the patent must be useful. That may seem even more difficult to prove. However, in your patent application, you need to show the usefulness of the invention based on the intended purpose for it. You must also show not just what the purpose is, but that it is actually able to accomplish that goal. To do this, you must provide outstanding details within your application that makes it easy to see what the goal of your invention is. One way to do this is to show how significant the invention is in terms of what it can accomplish.
As noted in that chapter of the U.S. Code, the utility patent provides protection for:

  • New and useful processes, products, or machines
  • Novel and useful improvement of an existing invention
  • Protects others from manufacturing the invention
  • Stops the use of the invention by any other party
  • Prevents the selling of the invention by any other party

What’s the Difference Between Utility and Design Patents?

There are other types of patents, each with different benefits and goals. A design patent is the second most common version. A design patent is a type of patent for new designs that are made of an existing product. That’s a bit more complex and even harder to prove as original. Here’s a look at the differences:

  • A utility patent has the goal of protecting a new invention or a significant improvement of an existing patent.
  • A design patent doesn’t involve a new product or even a significant improvement on an existing product, but rather a brand new design of that product.

Is a Utility Patent Better than a Design Patent?

It’s hard to see one type of patent is better than another because they have different purposes. However, utility patents can be a bit more powerful in terms of what they cover. They also provide you with complete control over the new invention, eliminating much of the frustration you may have in protecting your invention.
A key comparison to make, though, is the complexity of each form. Design patents tend to be easier to obtain, while utility patents tend to require more research to complete. Utility patents tend to take longer to obtain as well, which can be frustrating for some inventors.
With a design patent, you may be able to change the way the existing product looks, but you are not changing the actual function of it. This helps to make design patents easier to create – because the basic product is present. Yet, it does not apply to other forms of inventions when you are creating something brand new.

What’s the Typical Cost for a Utility Patent?

The cost of a utility patent will range widely depending on who you hire to help you and what to expect through the process. Many inventors must go through a significant amount of research, which is where costs can grow significantly.
The more complex the invention is, the more important it will be for you to have a complex drawing and technical aspects of the invention broken down. This adds to the cost over time. Most of all, if you need to hire an attorney – which many people do – this can add to the cost as well. You can estimate a basic, do-it-yourself utility patent application to cost you as little as $900 for a very basic and simple invention up to $10,000 or more for more complex and professional created patents. Keep in mind the application fees for any type of patent are significantly lower than the research and design that goes into those applications.


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