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Patents make it illegal for anyone other than the inventor of a product from being able to make, use or sell that product without the inventor’s permission. Patents are distributed by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, and come in three different types: utility, design and plant patents. A patent, if it is granted, lasts for 20 years after the application is filed and can only be recognized in the United States and its territories and possessions.

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office