|There are three classes of patentable subject matter. Recently, courts have recognized patentable subject matter in microorganisms, software, and business methods, each of which fall within one of the following three categories of patents:
1. Utility Patents. These patents cover any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter or any new and useful improvement thereon. The vast majority of patents are utility patents. Examples of utility patents include electrical circuits, the single click Internet customer purchasing method, automobile parts, food additives, toothbrushes, prosthetic devices, new bacteria, DNA strands, and the like. A utility patent’s term is 20 years, beginning on the filing date.
2. Design Patents. These patents cover new and ornamental designs of article of manufacture. These inventions include the non-functional aspects of an article of manufacture that sets the invention apart from all other articles of manufacture. Design patents are more akin to trademarks because they protect the new “look” of a product and generally have a very narrow scope of protection. Examples of design patented items include wrought iron fencing and the shape of a telephone, a show, or a chair. The term of a design patent in the United States is 14 years from the date of issuance by the PTO.
3. Plant Patents. Plant patents cover asexually reproduced plants, meaning that the plant through means other than seeds is able to propagate itself by budding, grafting, or the rooting of cuttings so that the child plant will have the exact characteristics of the parent plants. Examples of plant patents include new and distinct varieties of spores, hybrids, and other new plants. A plant patent’s term is 20 years, beginning on the filing date.
A Note about business patents: Recently, the court has expanded patentable subject matter for business patents, allowing business methodologies having nothing to do with software to be patented.