Choosing the correct type of patent is vital for ensuring that your item is properly protected, and selecting the right patent group can make it easier to enforce your rights in a patent infringement case. All patents must be novel and non-obvious. Utility patents must also be useful. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office offers three types of patents in four different groups.
Determine what kind of patent you need. Design patents are offered for new designs or concepts for inventions, processes or machines. For example, a design for a new type of phone would require a design patent. Utility patents -- the most commonly sought patent -- are offered for new inventions, machines or processes. The inventors of the light bulb and laptop computer could, for example, seek utility patents. Both types of patents must be useful, novel and must not be patented anywhere else in the world. They must be non-obvious. The patent office explains that non-obvious items are items that experts within the field could not easily think of. Plant patents are available for newly discovered plants that the patent-seeker has caused to asexually reproduce. These patents need not be useful or non-obvious, but must be novel.
Select the group classification in which the item you wish to patent fits. Group I is for "chemical and related arts" and includes foods, plant growing technologies and a host of other chemicals. Group II is for "communications, radiant energy, weapons electrical and computer arts." Group III is reserved for "body treatment and care, heating and cooling, material handling and treatment, mechanical manufacturing, mechanical power, static and related arts." Applicants can seek patents in group IV for "industrial designs." If you're not sure what group to register your patent in, look at the sub-categories for that group. If they match your item well, you've chosen the right group. If not, examine the other groups. If you need assistance understanding the groups, contact the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office at 1-800-786-9199.
Choose the sub-category that best suits the item you wish to patent. Each group classification has hundreds of sub-categories, and most patent-seekers patent their item in three or four groups. Patents are strongest when they are specific and cover all categories in which an item will be used, so choose the categories carefully. You should, however, avoid selecting categories that do not apply because this will not strengthen your patent application.