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Frequently Asked Questions

The most common type of patent is a utility patent. You can potentially get a utility patent for a machine, an article of manufacture, a composition of matter, or a process or method that produces a useful and tangible result. You also may be able to get a patent for an improvement on any type of invention in the previous list. In addition to falling within one of these categories, the invention must be useful, novel, and non-obvious. (See below for more about these requirements.) You also can get a design patent for a design feature of a product if it is novel, non-obvious, and not related to the functionality of the product. Plants can qualify for a specific type of patent if they are novel and non-obvious. Large companies usually obtain these patents, which are rare.

You may be able to get a patent for computer software if it produces a useful and tangible result. In other words, you can receive protection for a specific application of a mathematical formula, even though you cannot receive protection for the formula.

If you have a utility patent, protection usually lasts for 20 years after the filing date of the application. If you filed the application before June 8, 1995, patent protection may last for 17 years after the patent was issued if this provides longer protection than the 20-year period. If you have a design patent, protection lasts for 14 years after the patent was issued. If you have a plant patent, protection lasts for 17 years after the patent was issued.