Outlier Patent Attorneys

Utility Patent Applications


If you’re not already familiar with patents and the patent landscape, read our post on the basics of patents here.  

When the word "patent" pops up in a conversation, it's usually in reference to utility patents. Utility patents have become synonymous with patents in general, but not all patents are utility patents. So, what distinguishes this type of patent? And how can you determine if a utility patent is the right fit for your invention?


A utility patent provides legal protection for an inventor's new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter.  The patent grants the inventor the exclusive right to prevent others from making, using, selling, or importing their invention for a term of 20 years from the filing date of the patent application.

What is a Utility Patent?

A utility patent is a type of patent that protects "any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof" (35 U.S. Code §101)

But what exactly falls within the realm of utility patents?  Of the three patent types recognized by the USPTO—utility, design, and plant—utility patents are the most common.  Generally, utility patents include any invention or discovery that serves a practical utility, unlike ornamental or decorative creations.  

The Law

Utility patents protect how an invention is used, giving the inventor the exclusive rights to produce, use, and sell their invention during the 20-year patent term.  On the other side of the coin, the inventor has the right to exclude others from manufacturing, using, selling, or importing the invention. Patents give the owner rights to legally sue for damages if patent infringement occurs—or in other words, if someone uses, makes, or sells your invention without your permission.

These exclusive rights apply to functional inventions—machines, methods, manufactures, or compositions of matter.  The following criteria must be fulfilled by the invention:

  • Statutory (a patentable subject matter)

  • Novelty

  • Utility

  • Non-obviousness

The statutory requirement means your invention needs to be one of the following:

  • A process or method producing a useful and tangible result, such as computer software

  • A machine

  • A manufactured article

  • A composition of matter

  • An improvement of an invention falling within the aforementioned categories

(For more insights on patentability, refer to our blog post here.)

Despite the expansive scope of patent laws, there are limitations on what can be patented. Laws of nature, physical phenomena, or abstract ideas, for instance, are not patentable.  The patentability of computer software, for example, is subject to ongoing debates.  (You can read more about software patentability in our in-depth blog post here.) 

Though the patent term is generally 20 years from the application's filing date, actual term can vary based on factors such as developments during the prosecution process, related patent filings, and the USPTO's processing timeline.  For the patent to stay active during its term, the owner must pay maintenance fees to the USPTO and must also detail the invention sufficiently to allow others to understand its creation and use.

Utility Patent Application Process

To get a utility patent, the first step is to submit a patent application to the USPTO.  This application should encapsulate a thorough narration of the invention, illustrations depicting its components or attributes, claims specifying the elements under patent protection, and diagrams demonstrating the invention.

Once the application is submitted, a patent examiner scrutinizes the application to ensure that the invention satisfies the prerequisites for patentability.  But, this process isn’t always successful.  If the application is approved, the patent is granted and the inventor will receive a patent certificate.  If the application is rejected, the inventor can revise the application or contest the examiner's objections, providing a chance to overcome this roadblock.

To obtain a utility patent, you'll need to file a utility patent application with the USPTO.  This application includes the abstract, drawings, and a description that will eventually appear in the utility patent. It also comprises the technical claims that describe your invention. 

Patent Types

In the US, there are three broad categories of patents: utility, design, and plant.  Utility patents protect new and useful inventions, design patents protect ornamental designs for articles of manufacture, and plant patents protect newly asexually reproduced plant varieties.  

Provisional vs. Nonprovisional Patents

There are two types of applications for utility and plant patents: provisional and non-provisional. A provisional application is a lightweight, placeholder application that allows inventors to establish a US filing date for their invention.  The filing date can be claimed in a non-provisional application filed at a later date (within 12 months of the provisional's filing date).  A non-provisional application, on the other hand, is what you file to have a patent granted through official review from the USPTO.

More details on provisional applications here and nonprovisional applications here

The Takeaway

Understanding the basics of utility patents can streamline your journey towards getting the right protection for your invention.  A competent patent attorney or agent with specific industry expertise can be invaluable in helping you secure strong protection.  Reach out to us for additional guidance or clarification on utility patents.  Our experienced team of attorneys at Outlier Patent Attorneys will be glad to assist you in protecting your inventions and innovations.


Q: How much does a utility patent cost?

The cost associated with filing a utility patent application varies depending on various factors such as complexity, nature, scope etc. Generally speaking, a utility patent will range anywhere from $3000 and above. At Outlier, we charge on a flat fee basis with the cost set at $5000 for a provisional and $12,000 for a full non-provisional.

Q: When should I get a utility patent?

When to file your patent application is dependent on various individual circumstances, including your activities related to the invention (e.g., recent or planned offers for sale, public disclosures of your invention, etc.), the filing of other related patent applications (e.g., a previously filed provisional patent application), and your strategic business goals. The timing to get a utility patent is a nuanced decision that should be tailored to your specific details and goals. Consider consulting an expert patent attorney for assistance.

Q: What’s the difference between a utility patent and design patent?

A key difference between utility and design patents is that while both grant exclusive rights over an inventor’s work product, only a utility patent can protect both its functional aspects as well as its ornamental aspects while a design patent can only protect ornamental aspects related to shape or color, but cannot protect any functional aspects or features associated with an invention. Understanding both types of patents (utility vs design) is essential when applying for intellectual property protection in order to ensure maximum coverage over inventions like machines, processes, compositions, etc.

Q: What are the elements of a "good" design utility application?

As with any type of patent application, there are certain elements that must be included in order for it to be successful. These include detailed descriptions and drawings that accurately describe your invention’s features; claims that clearly identify which parts you believe should be protected; evidence supporting why you believe your invention meets all legal requirements; proof that your invention works; evidence showing why your invention is unique from any existing technology; and evidence demonstrating how your invention would benefit society if granted a patent.