Utility patents are what most people think of when they think about patents. According to Ralph Waldo Emerson, it’s the better mousetrap for which the world will supposedly beat a path to your door. In short, the significance of a utility patent comes from the utilitarian nature of your new invention.
The Legal Basis for Patents
The U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” Congress did this, in part, by establishing the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and laws that authorize the USPTO to grant patents.
The USPTO grants utility patents, design patents, and plant patents. Whereas design and plant patents protect the ornamentation of useful objects and plants, respectively; utility patents protect new and nonobvious useful processes, machines, manufactures, or compositions of matter, or new and nonobvious improvements of existing inventions.
Patentable Subject Matter
The subject of patent claims is a blog topic unto itself, but patent claims are just about everything. The claims of your patent define the scope of your patent protection relative to existing inventions (also called “the prior art”). Remember, you cannot get a patent for inventions that already exist. Patent claims also define the “type” of utility patent you seek and are granted. The USPTO will start by inquiring whether your invention is patentable subject matter by analyzing whether your claimed invention falls under one of the four statutory categories of utility patent subject matter: process, machine, manufacture, and/or composition of matter.
A patent claim for a process (also sometimes referred to as a method) contains claim limitations that that distinguish your claimed process from the prior art. The claim limitations may differentiate your process from the prior art in several ways, such as a claim that your process uses different actions or mechanisms or uses a unique device used to perform the action. Process claims are commonly used with patent applications for software.
Machine claims are also referred to as apparatus, system, or device claims and include mechanical, electrical, and/or electro-mechanical devices. Machine claims include limitations that distinguish structural and/or functional features of the machine from the prior art.
A manufacture claim generally refers to features that describe the assembly of one or more parts into a single device or object. A hammer or a molded plastic windshield wiper blade may be a patentable article of manufacture if new and nonobvious.
Composition of matter claims refer to matter or material, such as drugs, drug formulations, plastics, multivitamins, alloys, or chemicals, which are a combination of two or more distinct ingredients.
Patent law requires that your invention fall into at least one of the four categories to qualify as utility patent subject matter. In many cases, your goals may be best achieved by including two or more types of claims, such as process claims and machine claims for electrical or electro-mechanical inventions.
Utility Patent Protection for Useful Inventions
Provided that your patent is useful, the acquisition of a utility patent is the culmination of your invention, patent application, and the USPTO’s examination of the invention to ensure it complies with the statutory requirements that your invention be novel and nonobvious. If you think you have a useful invention that is patentable subject matter, we may suggest a patentability search and a patent application if those search results suggest that your invention is likely to be patentable.
As always, every legal situation is different and must be evaluated on its own merits. If you need help with your intellectual property needs, please send us a message. We have registered patent attorneys who are skilled in all areas of science and technology and attorneys licensed in Arizona, Connecticut, and New York. Venjuris PC can handle federal intellectual property matters in any U.S. state and assist with international matters. For even more information, be sure to connect with us on Facebook.
Post by patent attorney Michael Campillo, edited by social media attorney Ruth Carter.