A patent is a type of intellectual property right that is granted to an inventor by the United States Patent Office. More specifically, it grants the right to exclude others from "making, using, offering for sale or selling" the invention in the U.S. or "importing" it into the country for a set period of time. A patent, then, creates a protected period during which the inventor has an opportunity to profit from his or her invention and recoup the costs of research and development. This economic incentive rewards innovation which, in turn, drives the economy.
Utility patents are granted for any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture or composition of matter or any new and useful improvement thereof. Utility patents confer protection for 20 years from the date of application, or 17 years from the issue date, the longer term applying.
Design patents are granted for any new, original and ornamental design for an article of manufacture. Design patents are granted for a term of 15 years from the date of issue.
Plant patents are granted for the discovery or invention and asexual reproduction of any new, distinct variety of plant. Plant patents are granted for a term of 20 years from the date of application, or 17 years from the issue date, the longer term applying.