There are several different types of patents that protect different aspects of inventions.  The
patent that most people are aware of and talk about is actually called a UTILITY PATENT.  
Utility patents protect such things as mechanical devices, chemical compositions, and
processes.  They essentially deal with the structure or operation of the invention.

There is also a DESIGN PATENT.  They are indicated by a  “D” in front of a patent number.  
Design patents protect only the appearance of functional items, so that, for instance, if you
were to produce a lamp with a unique shape, you might get a design patent on it.  Then others
could make the lamp, but not in that shape.  Design patents have been used traditionally to
protect items such as tableware designs.  If  a silverware company gets a design patent for a
pattern on silverware, the company can sue anyone who uses the same pattern, but a design
patent tends to protect only very specific designs.  It would not stop someone from using a
rose on silverware, just a rose design that was shown in an existing patent.  Design patent
protection is always based on the drawings – which are actually the only information in a
design patent.  Some interesting examples are found among solid room air freshener
products.  Many of them have design patents, even though they look very similar.  

The other type of patent is a PLANT PATENT.  It protects a specific hybrid type of plant which
has been developed.  Most roses being sold are or were patented.  This office does not deal
with plant patents.

There is also something called a PROVISIONAL PATENT APPLICATION, but keep in mind that it
is an APPLICATION not a patent.  What is more, it never will be a patent.  Although it is less
expensive than a regular patent application, it is more like a reservation of a filing date for a
regular patent application.  A provisional application will never become a patent unless a
follow-up regular application is filed within one year.  The follow-up regular application can
receive the earlier filing date of the provisional application, but even that depends on the
provisional including enough description to show that the follow-up regular application really
claims the same invention.  You get no “protection” from a provisional application – only an
earlier filing date if you follow it with a regular application.  The typical benefit of an earlier date
is that it could put you ahead of another inventor with a similar idea. However, the greatest
benefit of a provisional application may be that its one year life can give you more time to test
market the invention and to see if a regular patent application is worthwhile.  Furthermore,
during the one year of the provisional application, you are permitted to label the invention
“patent pending”, and that can be a valuable marketing advantage.
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