What is a patent? A patent 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. Importantly, there is technically no such thing as an international patent. Patents are issued per country. However, there is a two-phase “international” (PCT) patent process for utility and plant inventions to seek patent protection in all possible countries. Additionally, there is a Hague International Industrial Design patent application for unique ornamental designs. Read about what happens after you get a patent.

3 Types of Patents – Utility, Design, and Plant

Utility Inventions

Patent Attorney Help With Utility Patents
Utility Patents

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 $9000 in total.

Design Invention

Patent Attorney Help With Design Patents
Design Patents

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 $5300 in total.

Plant Inventions

Patent Attorney Help With Plant Patents
Plant Patents

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.

What is a patent? – 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

Patent an Invention with International Patent Applications

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 across the world. For utility and plant inventions, however, there is the International 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. International patenting is getting patents in more than one country for any one patentable invention. Read about our patent dos and don’ts.

Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) (Utility and 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 suitable for a PCT application. Note, this is different than design patents which require a Hague application as discussed below. The international patenting process is a two phase process. First is the International phase, where a PCT application is filed. Second is the national phase, where patent applications are filed in the countries where protection is sought.

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. Only the patent office can grant (or more specifically, issue) a patent, and they only do that when the examiners issue a notice of allowance.

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 file a national phase patent application in each country where protection is sought.

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)

The Hague System for the International Registration of Industrial Designs is a single patent application for a design patentable invention. Unlike the PCT international patents for utility and plant inventions, Hague applications do let you register for multiple patents in multiple countries in a single application. 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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