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Patents 101

A patent is a limited right granted by the government to an inventor, to stop others from making, using or selling their invention for a limited time period. It is important to note that a patent does not give its owner the right to practice the invention. Thus, making, using, selling, offering for sale, and importing a patented invention can be blocked by other patents. As such, it is up to the patent owner to monitor misuse and to enforce their rights via an infringement action where misuse is found.


A utility patent is the most common type, and it covers any process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvements thereof. To qualify for a utility patent, the invention must be novel, non-obvious, and useful. A utility patent lasts for 20 years, and after the patent expires the invention may be used freely by anyone.


A design patent (or an industrial design registration) protects the features of a shape, configuration, pattern or ornament applied to an article by any industrial process. The difference between a design patent and a utility patent, is that a utility patent protects the functional aspects of an invention i.e. the way an article is used or works. while a design patent protects new nonfunctional designs that appeal to the eye i.e. the way an article looks. A design patent only protects the appearance of the article and not the structural or utilitarian features. .


A plant patent (plant breeders’ rights) protects any new variety of asexually reproduced plants, other than a tuber propagated plant or a plant found in an uncultivated state. Asexual reproduction means that the plant is reproduced by means other than seeds, usually  accomplished by cutting or grafting of the plant. Examples include a new color of climbing rose or a new variety of apple. A plant patent can only be infringed when the infringing plant has the same genetics as the patented plant.