Utility Patents

If you’ve ever heard Mark Cuban or Lori Greiner talk about a patent on Shark Tank, there’s a very good chance they were talking specifically about a utility patent.

Utility patents make up 93% of all patent applications, making it by far the most common of the three types of patents.

What Is a Utility Patent?

A utility patent covers what one generally thinks of as an invention and must offer some functional benefit or solve a problem.

In short, a utility patent protects the function or use of an invention. More specifically, a utility patent is used to protect a process, machine, article of manufacture or composition of matter. It can also be used to protect any improvements made to such inventions.

Examples of Utility Patents

Utility patents exist in virtually every technological field. In 2021, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issued the 10,881,042 utility patent since 1836. To better categorize the different types of utility patents, the USPTO has developed the United States Classification system (USPC).

Here are some examples of utility patents and their classification under the USPC.

Utility Patent Examples

ClassExample
ApparelSafety visor for a fireman’s helmet
Metal TreatmentMethod for refining a raw metal
Chemistry of Carbon CompoundsUsing L-amino dicarboxylic acid amides as a sweetener
Pulse or digital communicationsDevice and system for overlaying signals
PumpsProcess for pumping concrete
SurgeryDevice and method for measuring glucose levels
NanotechnologyCarbon nanotube and nanoelectrode arrays
Multicellular living organismsGenetically modified mouse
Rotary ShaftsUniversal joint coupling
Data ProcessingSoftware modeling system and method

Utility patents can protect an invention in multiple ways. For example, consider the device and method for measuring glucose levels above. A utility patent can protect the device itself as an invention and protect the process for using the device.

How to File a Utility Patent

To file an application for a utility patent, first prepare the required documents. These documents can be found on the USPTO website here and include the following:

Next, navigate to the EFS-Web portal and create a USPTO account. Finally, submit all the required documents, along with the appropriate fee though the EFS-Web portal.

How Much Does a Utility Patent Cost?

Typically, a utility patent costs between $3,200-$10,000 or more. A utility patent can cost anywhere from $755 to more than $20,000 depending on the complexity of the invention and the hired help.

Some of the fees that factor into a utility patent include:

  • USPTO application fees
  • Preliminary patentability searching
  • Patent attorney fees
  • Patent drawing fees

The minimum amount an applicant must pay are the USPTO fees found here. These fees can be reduced if you prove that you’re a small business or individual.

An individual inventor can prepare and file a patent application on their own. However, it is highly advisable to use the services of a patent attorney. Although using a patent attorney will likely be your highest cost it ensures that your issued patent will adequately protect your invention.

A preliminary patentability search tries to determine what aspects of your invention are novel and helps the patent attorney draft the application. If a patentability search discovers your invention has been done before, it could save you a lot of wasted time and money.

A utility patent requires adequate drawings that help explain how the invention works. Typically, these drawings are done by someone with skill in computer aided design software (CAD). Your patent attorney may have a person they prefer to work with, but there are no limitations on who can make the drawings.

Once a utility patent is granted and issues, the holder of the patent must pay maintenance fees to keep the patent valid. These fees must be paid at 3.5 years, 5.5 years, and 11.5 years after the patent is granted

How Long Does It Take to Get a Utility Patent?

It takes about two years to receive a granted patent.

Some inventions are created overnight, other take years to develop. Once an inventor has refined her invention, prepares a patent application, and submits all the required documents she must then wait on the USPTO.

The time is takes the USPTO to examine and grant or deny a patent varies by the technological field. Aggregate data compiled by the USPTO shows that the total pendency of a patent application from the last two years has varied in the range of 23-24 months.

How Long Does a Utility Patent Last?

Utility patents last 20 years from the date the application was filed. Utility patents may also expire early if maintenance fees are not paid.

Once the term is up, the holder of a patent loses all their patent rights. Patents can’t be renewed, but there are steps an inventor can take in preparation for when a patent expires.

Sheldon Brown

Sheldon received his training of the patent system at the United States Patent & Trademark Office. He works with universities and consultants to provide analytics and guidance for technology commercialization from patents.

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Sources:

  1. N.A. (2022, June 13) Table of Issue Years and Patent Numbers, for Selected Document Types Issued Since 1836. Retrieved from https://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/ac/ido/oeip/taf/issuyear.htm
  2. N.A. (ND) Classification Resources. Retrieved from https://www.uspto.gov/web/patents/classification/selectnumwithtitle.htm
  3. N.A. (2022, January 19) Form Fillable PDF’s Available. Retrieved from https://www.uspto.gov/patents/apply/applying-online/form-fillable-pdfs-available
  4. N.A. (2022, February 22) Pendency. Retrieved from https://www.uspto.gov/dashboard/patents/pendency.html