When a new invention is created, developers often invest thousands — or even millions — of dollars into the product or idea. Once the invention is complete, how do they prevent others from stealing their idea and unfairly profiting from it? Smart inventors patent their new creation.

Governments grant inventors patents as a form of legal protection for their inventions. Patents give inventors exclusive rights to their inventions, so no one can make or sell the same invention for a certain period of time.

Each country decides how its patent process will work and what types of inventions can be protected. In the United States, there are three types of patents: utility patents, design patents and plant patents.

Utility patents, which cover physical objects, comprise most of the patents in the United States. Utility patents protect the way an invention is used and how it works.

Inventors can receive a utility patent if they develop a useful method, process, machine, device, manufactured item, chemical compound or any new and useful improvement to these objects. Some examples of utility patents include the tennis racket, the skateboard and the popcorn machine.

Design patents protect the appearance of an invention — but not how it works. For example, let’s talk about patent #D332173 (aka bunny slippers).

As you know, there are many types of slippers and shoes. The person who holds patent #D332173 does not have a patent on all slippers; instead, this patent protects one particular design (the bunny slipper). Other common design patents you have probably seen include athletic shoe designs and characters, such as those you see on television or in movies.

A plant patent protects newly created varieties of plants. For example, patent #PP9199 protects a specific variety of peach tree called the “Island King.” The inventor who created this variety of tree describes the Island King as being similar to another peach tree called the “Queencrest,” which was used to develop the new variety.

Although the two trees are similar, the Island King produces fruit that ripens earlier than that of the Queencrest, which allows the Island King’s fruit to be harvested and shipped two weeks earlier. Therefore, the Island King peach tree is eligible for a patent of its own!


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    • That’s SUPER cool, Betsy! We’re so glad you enjoy exploring different Wonders here in Wonderopolis…you are a WONDERful Wonder Friend! :-)

    • Way to go, Dylan! We’re sure that Mrs. Bogaert is going to be thrilled that you learned something new today! Thanks for sharing your awesome comment! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • What is a patent?
  • How does a patent protect an invention?
  • What types of patents are available in the United States?

Wonder Gallery

Wonder #99- Patent Static Image2Vimeo Video

Try It Out

Ready to explore the wild world of patents? It’s time to become a patent detective.

From your toothbrush to your dog’s leash, chewing gum to bunny slippers, there is a patent on just about everything you use each day. Head over to Google’s patent search to check out some famous patents you’re already familiar with.

Just enter the number for each patent in the box, and you’ll be able to check out the abstract, description and drawing for each patented object.

  • D11023 (Statue of Liberty)
  • 5810359 (Monopoly)
  • 6281 (safety pin)
  • 1505592 (popsicle)
  • 3671267 (peanut butter)

Once you’ve had a chance to check out these patents, do some patent sleuthing on your own. What types of things do you use every day? Who holds the patent for these items? Are there other patents related to your search?

Need a few ideas? Try searching for the patents on these objects:

  • Basketball
  • Band-Aid
  • Ice cream cone
  • Drinking straw
  • Teddy bear

Once you’ve become an expert at patent searching, it’s time to take your turn as the inventor! Do you or your family have an idea for a new invention? Have you thought of a great way to improve something that already exists?

Check out the patent search site to see if your idea has already been patented. When you’ve completed your search, write a description of your invention or improvement. Don’t forget to include a drawing!

When you’re finished, email or send a copy to Wonderopolis. We want to see what wonderful idea you come up with!

Wonderopolis HQ
325 West Main Street, Suite 300
Louisville, KY 40202-4237


Still Wondering

The history of the United States reveals a longstanding tradition of innovation and creativity. Take a virtual trip back through time, courtesy of the National Museum of American History’s Treasures of American History: Creativity and Innovation exhibit.


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Wonder What’s Next?

It’s not our 100th birthday, but it is our 100th wonder. Tomorrow Wonderopolis celebrates our big 1-0-0! Prepare for the celebration of the century.

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