Patents protecting functional inventions, known as utility patents in the United States, are the most frequently and typically referenced type of patent. In the United States, utility patents are issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office for a term of 20 years from the date on which the application for the patent was filed in the United States or, in certain circumstances, from the date an earlier related application was filed, subject to the payment of maintenance fees. U.S. patent grants are effective only within the United States, U.S. territories, and U.S. possessions. Under certain circumstances, patent term extensions or adjustments may be available.
The right conferred by the patent grant is, in the language of the statute and of the grant itself, “the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling” the invention in the United States or “importing” the invention into the United States. What is granted is not the right to make, use, offer for sale, sell or import, but the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, selling or importing the invention.
This page covers utility patents and related initiatives. For information about design patents, see the Industrial designs webpage. For more information about plant patents, see the Plant and plant variety protection webpage.
For information about how to apply for a patent, see the USPTO’s Patent process overview webpage.
Patent Cooperation Treaty
The Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) is a treaty administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) by which applicants can pursue patent protection in more than 150 contracting states through the filing of a single international application. Given the territorial nature of patent rights, patents granting from an international application will result from national or regional patent offices. The PCT system for patents, together with the Hague system for industrial designs and the Madrid system for trademarks, comprise the three major WIPO-administered registration systems for simultaneously and efficiently seeking protection in multiple jurisdictions abroad.
The PCT system assists applicants in seeking patent protection internationally for their inventions, helps patent offices with their patent-granting decisions, and facilitates public access to a wealth of technical information relating to those inventions. The PCT system has several bodies that convene to develop recommendations for the PCT Assembly:
- The PCT Assembly established the PCT Working Group in 2007 to do preparatory work that requires submission to the Assembly, such as proposals for amendments to its regulations.
- Another body, the PCT Committee for Technical Cooperation, covers PCT administrative issues.
- The Meeting of International Authorities brings together the International Authorities under the PCT.
Information for the PCT system and various PCT-related bodies is available on the WIPO website. Additional technical information regarding the PCT system, including forms as well as filing and fee information, is available on the USPTO’s PCT webpage.
Patent Law Treaty
The Patent Law Treaty (PLT) was adopted in 2000, with the globally shared aim of harmonizing and streamlining formalities in the patent application process. In December 2012, Congress passed the Patent Law Treaties Implementation Act of 2012 to, among other things, implement the provisions of the Patent Law Treaty into U.S. law and practice.
Standing Committee for the Law of Patents
The World Intellectual Property Organization, through its Standing Committee for the Law of Patents (SCP), provides a global forum for substantive discussions focused on patent topics and issues, including advancement of collaboration, harmonization, and normative legal work in relation to patents. For more information on the USPTO’s work at the SCP, see the USPTO’s Patent Law Harmonization webpage.
IP5 is the name given to a forum of the world’s five largest intellectual property offices. It was set up to improve the efficiency of the examination process for patents worldwide. IP5 members include the European Patent Office (EPO), the Japan Patent Office (JPO), the Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO), the National Intellectual Property Administration of the People’s Republic of China (CNIPA), and the USPTO. For more information about this forum, see the IP5 website.
Since 1983, the so-called Trilateral Offices—the USPTO, the European Patent Office, and the Japan Patent Office—have met to discuss areas of cooperation in sharing search tools, seeking ways to benefit in the advances in information technology, establishing international standards, and comparing patent search and examination practices. For more information about this cooperation, a precursor to the IP5, see the Trilateral website.
The USPTO enters into patent worksharing arrangements with counterpart IP offices throughout the world. Worksharing arrangements streamline the patent examination process by promoting expeditious, less costly, and more effective patent protection. For more information, see the USPTO’s patent worksharing webpage.
Other patent policy initiatives
The USPTO works in a variety of other areas to pursue its goal of providing leadership and expertise in international and domestic issues relevant to the protection of patents. These include:
- Attributable ownership
- Patents for Humanity
- Proposed patent small claims proceeding for patent enforcement: public comments on Federal Register Notice of 2013
- International issues related to privileged communications between patent practitioners and their clients: report on 2015 roundtable
- Patent subject matter eligibility: report on 2016 roundtables