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Patent application types explained

The United States Patent and Trademark Office lists different types of patent applications an inventor can complete to formally gain the rights and protections that a patent offers. To make sure their requests for a patent are not denied based on application errors, applicants should be sure that they take the time to learn which patent application applies to their invention and submit it accordingly.

A Provisional Application is a commonly used option that allows designers to begin the patent process at a lower cost. As a provisional application, it does not require an oath, declaration, information disclosure or a formal patent claim. Instead, it allows inventions to be marketed with the term “patent pending” and supplies them with a U.S. filing date. Applicants will have to file an additional nonprovisional application during the 12-month pendency period in order to have their patent formally reviewed and decided upon. A provisional application can only be used for utility and plant patents.

Utility patents are granted for those who invent an original and helpful process, article of manufacture, machine, or composition of matter. It could also apply to new improvements to those already in existence. A nonprovisional application must include all required material, including specifications, a summary of the invention, a description, drawings, an oath or declaration, and an abstract of the disclosure.

Design patents are used to protect ornamental designs of functional items. This could include designs of industrial tools, computer images, jewelry, furniture, and drink containers. Applications for a design patent cannot be provisional, and must include, among other things, a title, drawings, photographs and an oath or declaration.

A plant patent is used only to secure rights to a new variety of plant. A person must show that he or she invented or discovered and asexually reproduced a distinctly new plant. Tuber propagated plants and plants discovered in an uncultivated state do not qualify for this patent protection. While algae and macro fungi are considered plants under this application, bacteria are not. To complete an application for this type of patent, inventors must include a title for the invention, the Latin name of the genus and species, background of the invention, a drawing and a detailed description of the plant being claimed. 

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