What Are the Three Patent Types?

Do you know what a patent is? A patent helps protect the mechanisms, principles, and components of an invention. They tend to be filed less frequently than trademarks and copyrights for small businesses. However, this is a necessary form of intellectual property protection for inventions.

Here are the three types of patents and how entrepreneurs can apply for each one.

Three Types of Small Business Patents

It’s important to understand which type is the right fit for your invention. Currently, there are three types:

  • Utility
  • Design
  • Plant


Utility patents are among the most filed small business patents with the USPTO. This type fulfills the definition of a patentable invention. It may be a useful process, machine, article of manufacture, composition of matter, or new or useful improvement. These are four categories of statutory subject matter.

  • Process: This is an act, or series of acts or steps, typically from an industrial or technical process.
  • Machine: The USPTO defines machine as “a concrete thing, consisting of parts, or of certain devices and combination of devices.”
  • Manufacture: These are articles made by the invention.
  • Composition of matter: This is the chemical makeup of the invention. It is made of two or more substances and all composite articles. This may be gases, fluids, powders, or solids.

A utility patent has the option to file as a provisional or nonprovisional application. Provisional applications are low-cost. Applicants establish a filing date in the United States for their invention. Then, they file a nonprovisional application to claim the invention later. A patent examiner reviews nonprovisional applications. If the invention is considered patentable, the utility application is filed with the USPTO.


A design patent is for anyone who invents a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture.

A utility patent protects the use of an article. Design patents protect the appearance of an article, but not its structural or functional features. Famous include the Statue of Liberty and the original curvy Coca-Cola bottle. A recent example is emojis, protecting the look and appearance of the digital icons.

The terms for a design patent may last 15 years from the date of the grant. This provides small businesses with over a decade’s worth of protection.


One of the most unique small business patents is the plant patent. This is for anyone who invents or discovers a new variety of plant. Here are a few examples:

  • Cultivated sports
  • Mutants (only if the mutant is discovered in a cultivated area)
  • Cultivated hybrids
  • Newly found seedlings
  • Algae and macro-fungi
  • Asexually propagated plants reproduced through means other than seeds, such as layering or budding.

Plants which would not be eligible include existing plants, such as roses, bacteria, and edible tuber reproduced plants like potatoes.

A plant patent’s terms are for 20 years from the date of the patent’s application filing. Like utility, a plant patent may file a provisional or nonprovisional application. The inventor filing this application must be the same person who invented, or reproduced, the plant they wish to patent.

Applying For a Patent

By now, you likely have a good idea as to which small business patent is best for your invention. The next step is to get ready to apply. As you prepare to apply, keep the following aspects in mind about the process.

  1. What is your application strategy? File as yourself (Pro Se) or work with a patent attorney or agent.
  2. Will you file a provisional or nonprovisional application? This is contingent on the type of small business patent you are filing.
  3. Do you have enough money for fees? There are several fees for filing, including application fees, search fees, examination fees, and issues fees.
  4. How soon do you need the patent? Consider expedited examination options to file for and receive patent approval sooner.
  5. Do I have everything I need for my application? Your application materials may require an oath or declaration, drawings, and additional written documents. Make sure you understand each part for obtaining your patent and include it with your application.
  6. Will I mail my application or submit it online? Double check everything prior to making this last step to ensure your application is complete.

Approval and Next Steps

If your patent is approved, congratulations! You will receive notice of approval and a patent grant in the mail.

After receiving your small business patent, make sure to maintain the patent over the years. Pay any maintenance fees on time to ensure it does not expire and check the status as needed for this valuable piece of intellectual property.

Learn more about intellectual property with MyCorporation. Contact MyCorporation at mycorporation.com or give us a call at 877-692-6772.