Many have heard the quote “Everything that can be invented has been invented,” which is largely (and likely, wrongly) attributed to Charles H. Duell, the Commissioner of the US patent office in 1899.  Working in the patent office, Duell would have been quite aware that patent applications increase every year — with only a few exceptional years (something to examine in a future blog).

This blog focuses on patent basics: what is a patent, the different types of patents, the protections and terms offered and a brief look at the number of applications and patents issued. This article is not intended as legal advice, but rather for general background purposes.  One will quickly discover how complicated the patent process is, and we recommend you consult with an intellectual property attorney or call the US Patent and Trade Office (USPTO) help line (see below) for specific advice or help.

The USPTO issues several different types of patents for different subject matter and each offers different intellectual property protections. A patent is a set of exclusive rights granted by a sovereign state to an inventor (or inventors) that exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States “for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted.”  It’s important to note that patent laws in the United States are now based on “first to file” rather than “first to invent,” which means that filing for a patent on your invention idea quickly and not disclosing your idea or invention without proper protection is important if you wish to protect it (See “Protecting Your Great Idea” by patent attorney Paul Tomita).  There are three basic types of patents:  Utility, Design and Plant patents.

Utility Patent – “Patents for Invention”
Utility patents make up approximately 90% of patent documents issued by the USPTO and are issued for an invention that is a new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or a new and useful improvement.  It generally permits the owner of the patent to exclude others from making, using or selling the invention for a period of up to 20 years from the date of the patent application filing.  Before 1995, patent protection was for 17 years from the date of patent grant.   After 1995, protection is granted for 20 years from the date of the earliest related patent application.  It is subject to maintenance fees due at 3.5, 7.5 and 11.5 years.

Provisional versus Non-Provisional applications:  A Provisional Patent application is a lower cost option for inventors.  The filing fee is only $130 for small entities (individuals, universities, companies with 500 or fewer employees) and just $65 if you quality as a micro entity.  The provisional patent application has no formal requirements and it buys time to refine and perfect your invention.    The downside of the provisional patent application is that it lasts for only 12 months from the date the provisional application is filed.  The provisional patent application cannot be extended, so an applicant must file a corresponding non-provisional application for the patent in order to have the benefit of the earlier filing date.  Inventors should weigh the pros and cons and consider consulting with a patent attorney as to whether to file the provisional patent application versus going straight to the non-provisional patent application.

The various fees (provisional, non-provisional maintenance, etc.) are scaled depending on if one meets the criteria of being a small entity or micro entity, where fees are lower.

Design Patent
The second most popular patent type granted is the Design Patent.  This patent is issued for a new, original and ornamental design embodied in or applied to an article of manufacturer.  It permits its owner to exclude others from making use, or selling the design for a period of 14 years from the date the patent is granted.  Design patents are not subject to a maintenance fee.  The 14 year term is subject to change in the near future.

Plant Patent
Issued for new and distinct, inventor or discovered asexually reproduced plant including cultivated sports, mutants, hybrids, and newly found seedlings.  It permits the owner to exclude others from making, using or selling the plant for a period of up to 20 years from the date of the patent application filing.  Plant patents are not subject to maintenance fees.

Reissue Patent
A reissue patent is issued to correct an error in an already issued utility, design, or plant patent.  It does not affect the period of protection offered by the original patent.  However, the scope of patent protection can change as a result of the reissue patent.

By the Numbers:

Type of Patent Applications in 2013 Patents Issued in 2013
Utility 571,612 277,835
Design 36,034 23,468
Plant 1,406 847
Reissue Patent 698

Filing for and securing a patent on your idea is not necessary in order to submit your idea to Edison Nation Medical. We are able to confidentially accept and evaluate all ideas submitted to us and would never disclose or steal any inventor’s intellectual property. If, after reviewing an idea, we agree that it has strong commercial viability, our team of patent attorneys will secure a patent on the idea.  There is no investment that you, as the inventor, need to make in this process — we cover all costs for ideas we believe in with the end goal of successfully commercializing the idea and recouping our investment at that time. If we decide not to proceed with attempting to commercialize your idea for any reason, we will return all intellectual property to you, including any patent we might have filed on your behalf.

For more information about patents, please refer to these resources:

  • USPTO Inventors Assistance Center (IAC): 800-PTO-9199  or click here
  • Types of Patents:  or
  • Current fees:
  • More on fees:
  • Number of patents issued:

About Edison Nation Medical:
Edison Nation Medical is a healthcare innovation marketplace with deep expertise in open innovation, product development, and healthcare. Born out of collaboration with Carolinas HealthCare System (the second largest public health system in the United States), Edison Nation Medical’s mission is to break down the barriers to healthcare innovation. We make this a reality by providing a clear and easy pathway through our open innovation platform for anyone — physicians, nurses, entrepreneurs, even patients and caregivers — to submit a medical invention idea for full evaluation and potential commercialization.  

Edison Nation Medical innovation headquarters is in Charlotte, NC with satellite offices in San Francisco and New York City. For more information, please visit

For more information on our Innovation Searches, click here.