When inventors consider how to protect their rights in a new invention, they often do not full appreciate all of the patent options available to them. There are three types of patents in the U.S: utility, design, and plant. Utility patents are the most common type of patent protection. Utility patents are typically available for inventions which serve a function, although other elements of the invention may be covered by design patents or copyrights.
There are two types of utility patent applications that can be filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO): provisional and nonprovisional. Unlike a nonprovisional patent application, a provisional application is not examined by the USPTO and is not required to have a formal patent claim. A provisional application provides the means for establishing a U.S. filing date for your invention, which can be claimed in a later filed nonprovisional application. Provisional patent applications allow an inventor to use the term “Patent Pending” in connection with the description of the invention, but will automatically abandon 12 months after they are filed.