Some people use the terms "copyright" and "patent" interchangeably, but they're two entirely different forms of protection for intellectual property. You can copyright the description of an invention, but you must patent the actual invention to obtain equivalent protection. A patent gives the inventor the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale or selling the invention.
Determine whether you need a utility or design patent. A utility patent protects a novel and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, composition of matters or an improvement to an underlying invention. A design patent protects a new, original and ornamental design for an article of manufacture. An easy way to remember the difference is that a utility patent protects the way an invention functions and a design patent protects the way an invention looks.
Locate your local Patent and Trademark Resource Center (see link in Resources). Resource Center staff can help you determine whether your invention has already been patented. Staff can also help you with general questions about your patent application, although they are not permitted to provide legal advice.
Navigate to EFS-Web (link in Resources). Once there, click "Launch EFS-Web Unregistered eFiler."
Type your name and email address in the applicable boxes.
Select "New Application." Select either "Utility" or "Design" and click "Continue."
Complete the online form. Note that patent forms are lengthy. For example, a design patent form will include the title of the design, correspondence address, payment information, drawings or photographs, a description of the figures of the drawing and feature description. Submit the online form after you've entered the required information. You will receive an acknowledgment receipt at the email address you provided.