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Main Dictionary P


Patent is an inventor’s legal ability to protect his intellectual property for a certain period of time. In return the person shares detailed information about his invention including its purposes, components, and working principles. 

In the USA applications for patents are reviewed by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) from the Department of Commerce. Patents registered in the USA are active only on the territory of the country. Optionally, the inventor can expand patent rights in other countries. However, these rights can differ from one country to another. Dissimilarities can appear on the matter of patent term and its specification.

Types of Patents 

Generally, there are three types of patent, which last for 15-20 years. Patent term is influenced by the type of patent and the date of its application. For instance, in the USA there are utility patents, design patents, and plant patents. In Russia there are two types of utility patents (one lasts for 10 years and the other lasts for 20 years, while in the USA utility patents are given for 20 years). Plant patents in Russia aren't separated out as a special category. So, there are different rules for patents. You should study and consider them. Let’s clarify the US variants of patents more particularly.

Utility patents are made for protecting an invented process, manufacture, mechanism, or chemical entity. It is the most widespread type of patent amongst others. It lasts for 20 years and requires maintenance fees.

Plant patents represent a group of developments in the agricultural sphere. Consider that an invented plant has to be capable of reproduction. This kind of patent is active for 20 years. Maintenance fees aren’t required.

Design patents include original design of some products. However, not only the design of a product has to be unique and useful, but the product itself has to be like that. Design patent terms for 15 years if you apply it after May 2015 and for 14 years else wise. Maintenance fees aren’t required.

Examples of patents

There are a lot of famous historical inventions that were granted patents. For instance, in 1876 Alexander Bell filed the patent for developing the telephone. Soon after in 1879 Robert Anderson filed the patent for the first electric car. These inventions have been improved and upgraded since then.

Motives of investors

Patents encourage businessmen to be more active and investigative. As a businessman you’ll be more dedicated to the process of inventing something new if you know that nobody uses your ideas without your permission. Therefore, companies are motivated to support innovations financially. Overall, this tendency helps to boost science, technology, and economy. 

Also, patents help companies to save their intellectual rights and profits. For some corporations it’s important to show their innovativeness because that builds their business status. In other words, patents promote innovation.

Application procedure

Application procedure described in this article is exemplified from the U.S. patent system. There are a few steps before the procedure that a person should do in advance. First, it’s important to check carefully the list of patented inventions in order to confirm the uniqueness of your development. The database of patents is presented in the Patent and Trademark Office. Second, you should fully and precisely describe your invention including all the details and processes. Third, you should arrange required documents and pay associated fees. Required documents include detailed description of the invention, drawings, and schemes that prove its novelty. The invention has to be a unique object, process, or mechanism, etc. Also, it can be a significantly improved existing model. 

It is roughly estimated that only a half of applications for patents get approvals. According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) every year there are more than 500 000 applications. A lot of them come from the technology industry.

Patent expenses depend on:

  • the type of patent;
  • the type of applicant;
  • provisional or nonprovisional patent application (only for utility patents);
  • required fees;
  • etc.

Differences between closely related terms

In order to avoid misperception of three closely related terms – patents, copyrights and trademarks – let’s define some crucial differences between them. 

Patents are granted by a sovereign authority legal rights that protect the inventor’s intellectual property. This protection usually lasts for 15-20 years. Other people or businesses can’t profit from the protected intellectual property without inventor’s permission. 

Copyrights are also made for the protection of intellectual property. But mostly they are applicable for creative works of the mind such as visual arts, scripts, literary works, music compositions, and software. Likewise, copyrights are limited in time. Generally, copyright lasts no more than 70 years after the death of the author. However, there are exceptions for hire and anonymous works, their duration extends to 120 years from the creation. Any usage of the copyrighted work without the author’s permission is forbidden.

Trademarks are verified and protected symbols, words, and phrases identifying a company or a product. Trademarks associated with a particular company and its representation. They aren’t limited in time and protect the company’s intellectual property forever as long it is used and defended.





To protect new discoveries, inventions, and improvements of existed things and processes

Last for 15-20 years depend on the type of patent

The quadcopter drone was patented in 1962


To protect creative works of the mind (visual arts, songs, literary works, etc.)

Last up to 70 years after the author’s death in general, but there are a few exceptions 

Stephen King’s books are his intellectual properties protected by copyright


To protect symbols, marks, phrases, or words which identify a company or product

Last forever as long a symbol or phrase is used

The Nike swoosh, or Apple's apple

Key points

  1. Patent is a form of protection of the intellectual property granted by the governing authority. Patents are time-limited. Usually, they last from 15 to 20 years.
  2. There are three types of patents in the USA – utility patents (useful inventions), design patents (ornaments or graphic elements), plant patents (agricultural developments and discoveries). However, the types of patents vary in different countries.
  3. An application for patents requires detailed description of an invention signed by its creator and payment of associated fees. Then the application will be reviewed and, finally, approved or denied.
  4. Beside patents there are other forms of intellectual property protection such as trademarks and copyrights. These forms have distinctive characteristics.

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