A patent is a type of intellectual property protection for inventions and technological innovations. If you have a new invention, you can apply for a patent, which gives you the right to prevent others from making or selling the same or a similar invention.
According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, patent protection does not last forever. The term of protection you can enjoy varies depending on the type of patent but is usually about 20 years.
If you are not sure what kind of patent you need, here are the different types and what they do.
A design patent is not for an entirely new invention. Rather, it is for an ornamental design that is original and new for a manufactured article. It does not protect features relating to the article’s function or structure. Your design patent lasts for 14 years, and you do not have to pay a fee to maintain it.
A plant patent protects new varieties of plants. You can apply for a plant patent if you either discover a new variety or invent it through cultivation. Plant patents are not available for vegetation that can grow from fertilized seeds. Asexual reproduction is a requirement for a plant patent. A plant patent expires after 20 years.
A utility patent offers you protection for a completely new invention, be it a machine, an article of manufacture, a composition of matter or a process. You can invent it or you can discover it, but it has to be new, and you have to be able to demonstrate how it is useful. You may have to pay fees to maintain a utility patent, and the protection lasts up to 20 years.
The USPTO issues patents but does not enforce them. It is up to you to take legal action against any violation of your patent.