What is a Patent?

What Is A Patent

What is a Patent?

A patent (utility, plant, or design) is the legal right to control the making, using, and selling of a patented invention for a limited time. There are three patent types: utility, design, and plant patents. Also, there is technically no such thing as an international patent. Patents are issued per country. However, there is a two-phase “international” (PCT & Hague) patent process to seek patent protection in all possible countries.

Types of Patents

Utility Patent – United States

Utility Patent – United States

A utility patent protects the way an article is used and works (35 U.S.C. 101). A utility patent only covers the way an invention functions, but not the way it looks. In the United States, utility patents are issued for 20 years from the filing date. This means that if a patent is issued, the inventor has a legal right to this patent for the next 20 years. In addition, the estimated cost for patent services to patent a general utility invention is about $8000 in total.

Read about the 5 steps to patent a utility invention at Carson Patents

Design Patent – United States

Design Patent – United States

A design patent protects the way an article looks (35 U.S.C. 171). Design patents are issued for 15 years from the issue date in the United States. As mentioned above, this means that the inventor will have the right to control their invention for the following 15 years. In addition, the estimated cost for patent services to patent a general utility invention is about $4500 in total.

Read about the 5 steps to patent a design invention at Carson Patents.

Plant Patent – United States

Plant Patent – United States

A plant patent protects a plant that possesses new or unique characteristics (35 U.S.C. 161). For example, an inventor could patent an asexually reproduced plant. Some plants, however, are not patentable. Tuber-propagated plants, which are reproduced by the same part of the plant that is eaten, cannot be patented. Plant patents are issued for 20 years from the filing date, similar to utility patents.

Read about the 5 steps to patent a plant invention at Carson Patents.


35 U.S.C. 101 – Inventions Patentable

Whoever invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent therefore, subject to the conditions and requirements of this title.

– USPTO Manual of Patent Examining Procedure


International Patent Applications

Carson Patents

An international patent does not exist. In other words, an inventor cannot get a patent to protect an invention that is applicable in every country. For utility and plant inventions, however, there is the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) 2-phase patent application process. Different from utility and plant patents, for design patents, there is the Hague System for International Registration of Industrial Designs. 

Patent Cooperation Treaty (Utility &Amp; Plant Patents)

Patent Cooperation Treaty (utility & plant patents)

The PCT includes 153 member contracting states (countries and groups of countries) that allow an inventor to simultaneously patent their invention in nearly all countries of the world through a 2-phase process. Utility and plant patents are applicable for a PCT application, different from design patents.

Phase 1 – The International Phase

Firstly, is the international phase or “international” application phase. In this phase, the inventor files the “international” application. This PCT application does not give the inventor rights to any patent world-wide, however, it does apply in over 150 countries. In other words, filing a PCT application results in patent pending status in over 159 countries with a single application. The inventor or applicant typically files the PCT application in the country they reside. After filing the PCT application, but usually before the second stage or “national” application stage, the patent agent or attorney conducts a preliminary search. As a result, the patent agent or attorney writes an opinion regarding the novelty, inventive step, and industrial applicability of the claims of the invention.

What does it mean to be patent pending? The term patent pending legally means a product or activity has an open patent application on file with the patent office. Patent pending, however, does not mean the patent attorney or agent will grant protection of the invention. This only means that the patent agent or attorney has filed and prepared the application. Read More About Patent Pending

Phase 2 – The National Phase

Secondly, is the national phase or “national” application phase. In this phase, the inventor chooses in which countries they want protection. The inventor will then choose to file a national phase patent application in those countries.

In conclusion, if the inventor wishes to control their invention in other countries, they can file an application through the 2-phase Patent Cooperation Treaty process. A PCT international phase patent application is the first step. In addition, the inventor will choose to file a national phase patent application in countries which they want protection.

Hague System (Design Patents)

Hague System (design patents)

The Hague System for the International Registration of Industrial Designs is a single patent application for a design patentable invention. The Hague application permits registering of up to 100 designs in 74 contracting parties (covering 91 countries) through the filing of a single international application. 

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Important TIP: When looking for expert patenting services help only a patent attorney or patent agent can prosecute patents for you.