Three separate types of U.S. patents are available as follows:
A Utility patent (most common) protects the physical aspects of inventions and how they work, including: a process or method, a machine or device, an article of manufacture, a composition of matter or materials, and, any new improvement on any of these. The improvement may be relatively minor and apply to only a tiny part of the subject, but it has to be new, not obvious and it must be useful. The utility patent is considered to potentially provide broader (stronger) patent protection. Note: transgenic animals may be patented- see the Harvard Mouse.
A Design patent protects the visual ornamental characteristics embodied in, or applied to, an article of manufacture. Since a design is manifested in appearance, the subject matter of a design patent may relate to the configuration or shape of an article, to the surface ornamentation applied to an article, or to the combination of configuration and surface ornamentation. The design patent is considered to potentially provide narrower (weaker) patent protection. It is important to note that designs, which are not part of an article of manufacture, are generally considered to be a work of art, protectable by the copyright.
A Plant patent protects any asexually reproduced, distinct and new variety of plant other than a tuber propagated plant or a plant found in an uncultivated state (wild). This includes any living plant organism, which expresses a set of characteristics determined by its single, genetic makeup or genotype, which can be duplicated through asexual reproduction, but which cannot otherwise be “made” or “manufactured.” It also includes sports, mutants, hybrids, and transformed plants. Sports or mutants may be spontaneous or induced. Hybrids may be natural, from a planned breeding program, or somatic in source. While natural plant mutants may have naturally occurred, they must have been discovered in a cultivated area. Algae and macro-fungi are regarded as plants, but bacteria are not. Note: The use of certain bacteria may be patented; see bacteria used to remove oil spilled in ocean environments.
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