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What is a utility patent?

A utility patent is a patent that protects any “novel” and “non-obvious” useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or a new and useful improvement thereof. A simple way to describe what a utility patent protects is that it protects how an article is used and functions.

Over 90% of all patents issued by the USPTO are utility patents, and this is the type of patent most people think about when they hear the term “patented.”


One Example: Nintendo Co. Ltd

Nintendo Switch utility patent image.

Nintendo Co. Ltd has a multitude of utility patents and has several related to the famous Nintendo Switch. For example, in US9724601B2, Nintendo Co. Ltd holds a patent for a game controller. The patent describes a game controller that is removably attachable to a main unit having a main unit-side slide member and configured to execute a game process. Thus, this patent relates to the functionality of the Nintendo Switch.


Utility Patent Expiration

Generally, a utility patent permits its owner to stop others from making, using, or selling the invention for a period of up to twenty years from the filing date of patent application. In the case of US9724601B2, the utility patent was filed on June 10th, 2016, was issued on August 8th, 2017, and is set to expire on June 10th, 2036. In some cases determined by the USPTO, the term for a patent may be adjusted for a variety of reasons, such as prosecution delays. It is important to confirm the expiration dates of your patents by checking the first page of your issued patent document.


Advantages and disadvantages of a utility patent

Over 90% of all patent applications issued each year by the USPTO are utility patents and for good reason. The scope of protection of utility patents can be vastly different than that of a design patent. A utility patent allows for your patent attorney to carefully outline what would be covered by your patent in claims. Additionally, a utility patent can include and potentially protect different versions of your invention.

There are two major potential disadvantages to pursuing a utility patent: cost and time. The patent application process can take 2-5 years, and costs could increase during this long process. Additionally, the 20-year limit starts when the application is filed.



The protection coverage of a utility patent and design patent is different. It is important to evaluate what aspects of your invention you would like to stop others from copying. Additionally, the time and costs of utility and design patents are different. As an entrepreneur, you will need to decide whether pursuing a utility and/or design patent fits within your plans for your business.

Either way, it is important to protect your invention and potentially stop others from infringing on your ideas.

Author: Savanah McLendon.

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