What Are Utility Patents

Utility patents are the most common type of patent protection, and are typically what people mean when they discuss patents. Utility patents apply to new and useful processes, machines, manufactures, compositions of matter, or any new and useful improvement of one of these. Generally speaking, if your invention does something, you should apply for a utility patent. Utility patents have been divided into three basic types: mechanical, electrical, and chemical.

Utility Patent Process

The patent application process can be fairly complex and it is therefore critical that you hire a patent attorney is both experienced and qualified to handle the intricacies of the utility patent. The principal attribute of a utility patent is that it describes and claims the structure, composition, or operation of a product or process invention. In other words, it defines what the invention is and how it works.

A utility patent includes a specification that provides a detailed description of the invention, including identifying the best mode (best version), which is then contemplated by the inventor. It usually includes drawings illustrating the various components or steps of the invention. The specification may also include descriptions of different versions, or embodiments, of the invention.

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Utility Patent Rights

It is the claims that define the patent owner’s legal rights in the “patented invention.” The law gives the patent owner the right “to prevent others from making, using, selling, offering for sale or importing” the patented invention during the life of the patent. Therefore the claims are a critical part of the patent, since the patent cannot be infringed by products or processes which are not within the scope of at least one of the claims of the patent. Commonly claims are often changed and narrowed significantly during the USPTO examination process, usually to differentiate over prior inventions cited by the patent examiner or meet objections raised by the examiner, so that the scope of the amended claims which appear in the final issued patent is often significantly more limited than what that patent’s text might suggest.

Utility Patents Life Term

The life or term of a utility patent is 20 years from the initial filing date of the first patent application from which the patent claims priority. Note that this means that the time required for examination of the patent application is counted against the overall 20-year term, meaning that the actual life of an issued patent will be usually be no more than 17–18 years.


Howard M. Cohn & Associates has extensive and varied experience in all aspects of Intellectual Property law, with a unique specialty in patent and trademark preparation and prosecution. Schedule an appointment or call us at 800-613-1067.