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Back to the basics: What is a utility patent?

The most common kind of patent granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is the utility patent, awarded for a new or improved process, machine, device, product, or composition of matter. For an invention to be patentable as a utility patent, it must be new, useful, and nonobvious. 

In general, when granted a utility patent, the patentholder has the exclusive legal right to exclude others from making, selling or licensing the invention for 20 years. This protection can be financially significant when it applies to cutting-edge technology.

Utility-patent examples 

There is a vast array of potentially patentable inventions under the utility patent umbrella, across many industries and of countless types. Utility patents concern not only invented "things," but also novel processes such as the specific steps taken to make or produce something, or the way to cause something to function. 

Utility patents cover not just high-tech devices or complex pharmaceuticals, but also innovations in perhaps unexpected industries. 

A new lawsuit just filed by Nike in Massachusetts federal court concerns utility patents. In that case, Nike alleges that Puma has unlawfully used Nike's patented knitting technology in its sports shoes. As explained by The Fashion Law, Nike's patents protect the way its knitted material is made, as opposed to the design of its shoes, which would be protected instead by design patents. 

In our next post, we will explore design patents and how they differ from utility patents.

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