Utility Patent Law and Legal Definition

The term utility means the purpose or useful function and a utility patent protects the way an invention is used and works. Utility patents are patents issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for the invention of a new and useful process, machine, device, manufactured item, or a chemical compound, or a new and useful improvement of the compound. For instance, utility patent may be granted for computer hardware or medications. Utility patents are also referred as "patents for invention." Most patents fall into the utility patent category. Approximately 90% of the patents issued by U.S. Patent and Trademark Office over the recent years are utility patents. These patents are subdivided into mechanical, electrical and chemical categories.

Utility patent can be provisional or non-provisional. A nonprovisional utility patent application must include a specification, including a claim, drawings, an oath or declaration. The application must be filed along with the prescribed filing fee.

By owning a utility patent, the owner can exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention for a period of up to 20 years from the date on which the application for the patent was filed in the U.S. However, the patent owner has to pay a patent maintenance fees for this period to keep the patent in force. These fees are due at 3½, 7½, and 11½ years. The total fees may roughly come up to $3500 U.S. dollars for individuals and small businesses. Under certain specific circumstances, patent term extensions or adjustments may be available.

To protect one’s invention in other countries an international patent application must be filed under the Patent Cooperation Treaty. Such an application does not provide the applicant an international patent. It only delays the expense of filing in other countries allowing the applicant more time to access the feasibility of selling the invention abroad. PCT laws allow a person to file a single international patent application that will temporarily protect the invention in up to 117 countries. The protection is for two and a half years.