Patents & designs

Patents protect your inventions – how they work, what they do, how they perform their tasks, how they are made, and what they are made from. Patents can cover a wide range of technologies and apply to new inventions or improvements to existing ones. You have to register your patent before your invention is protected. Design patents or design rights protect the visual and ornamental aspects of an item and are often used to protect consumer goods or software. The iPhone, and computer icons are examples of items protected by design patents. Find out more.

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Patents may be granted to the inventor of a new, useful and non-obvious invention for a period of usually 20 years from the filing date of a patent application. Once obtained, a patent grants the patent holder the right to exclude others from exploiting the invention during the patent period. Types of patents in the US include:

1) Utility patents for new and useful processes, machines, articles of manufacture, or compositions of matter, or any new and useful improvements thereof;
2) Design patents for new, original, and ornamental designs for articles of manufacture; and
3) Plant patents for the discovery and asexual reproduction of any distinct and new variety of plant.

Typically the following can be protected by a Utility Patent:
  • Mechanical devices
  • Electronic devices
  • Medicine/medical devices (and medical procedures in the US)
  • Chemical composition/process
  • Computer-based business process (software)
  • Methods for doing business (in the US)
There are two types of applications in the US you can make for the registration of a utility patent or plant patent.

1.Non-Provisional Application for a Patent
A non-provisional application for a patent typically must include a specification (including a description and a claim or claims); drawings (when necessary); an oath or declaration stating you made or authorized the application, and believe yourself to be the original inventor or joint inventor of the claimed invention; and the prescribed filing, search, and examination fees. If successful, at the end of the process you will be awarded a utility patent.

2.Provisional Application for a Patent
In the US, you can apply for a provisional patent application. A provisional patent application is a simplified and less costly alternative when you need to disclose your invention rapidly but are not yet in a position to file for a full patent application.
In Japan, you cannot apply for a provisional patent, but you can apply for an internal priority application. The internal priority application is different from the provisional patent application in that disclosure requirements are same with the non-provisional application, but it is granted patent based on a later application. To make efficient use of the internal priority application, it is able to disclose in early and get comprehensive and no leakage patent

A provisional application establishes an early effective filing date in a patent application and permits the term “Patent Pending” to be used for 12 months in connection with the invention. Provisional applications may not be filed for design inventions.

Keep in mind that a provisional patent application will not, by itself, get you a patent. It only lets you preserve your rights while you decide whether to file for a patent.

Things to do when considering a patent application:

1. Get expert advice and help from a qualified attorney or patent agent. Because of the complexity and potential pitfalls surrounding the patent application process,most inventors seek assistance from registered patent attorneys or patent agents from the start.

2. Start by making sure your invention does not already exist. A quick Google search can give you an idea, but it is often advisable to ask a patent attorney to perform a thorough prior art search (where the patent attorney will typically check all searchable literature, including inventions that are currently in the process of being filed).

3. Be aware that disclosure can harm your chances of getting a patent. Maintain confidentiality when developing new products and require potential business partners to sign enforceable non-disclosure agreements before giving them access to any product or business information.

4. Write down everything and keep good records. The more details you have from the very start, the better off you will be when you need to describe your invention during the patent application process. Your description must be detailed enough so that anyone trained in the field is able to reproduce your invention based solely on your description. To that end, you may also need to be able to draw your invention.

5.In the US, if you have good reasons to believe your invention potentially qualifies for a patent, but do not have the funding to launch a full application, consider filing a provisional patent application to obtain “patent pending” status.

6.Own your business. In many foreign countries, when your foreign business partner registers your IP, this person becomes the “rights holder.” Thus, to protect your rights (and block the import and export of infringing items) you need to register your own IP assets and have these registrations on file with the local customs administration. Make sure all potential foreign business partners are qualified and reliable. Include provisions in your contracts that require the use of original and unaltered products, and prevent your partners’ registration of your IP.


Design rights only apply to the shape and configuration of objects (how different parts of a design are arranged together). A design patent protects only the appearance of an article, not its structural or functional features (e.g. a device in a packaging that allows for a more rapid opening). To be afforded protection, a design must:

  • be new
  • not be offensive
  • not make use of protected emblems or flags
  • not be an invention or how a product works

In the UK, design rights automatically protect a design for 10 years after the design was first sold or 15 years after it was created – whichever is earliest. You can also register your design for better protection provided it meets the eligibility criteria. Registered designs in the UK can be kept in force for a maximum term of 25 years from the filing date. Renewal fees are payable every 5 years. In the US, a design patent has a term of 145 years from grant, if the design application was filed on or after May 13, 2015 (or 14 years if filed before May 13, 2015). While copyright may protect an artistic or literary work incorporated within a finished product, design rights exist independently of copyright.
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The information here is provided for informational purposes only and is not legal advice subject to our Terms of Use.