Ideally, a patent application should be made before the invention is disclosed to the public. Once the invention is made public, you lose the opportunity to file for patent protection in most foreign countries. Ideas cannot be patented. However, you can file a Disclosure Document — a witnessed and notarized description and sketch of your invention — which the USPTO holds for two years.
Business method patents are part of a larger family of patents known as utility patents that protect inventions, chemical formulas, and other discoveries. A business method is classified as process because it is not a physical object like a mechanical invention or chemical composition. Business method patents are only one embodiment of abstract ideas that were deemed to be non-patentable subject matter. While there no longer is a “business method patent” exception to patentable subject matter, the algorithm exception to patentable subject matter still stands.
Design patents are a useful tool to protect innovative designs in computer equipment and peripherals. New, original commercial designs for products can be protected relatively inexpensively, thereby preventing a competitor from making a product which looks identical to an existing product. Design patents only cover an item’s look or form. Design patents do NOT protect an idea or an invention, but rather only protect ornamental design of exactly what is pictured. This means that they are weaker than a utility patent, but because they are VERY easy to get you should consider them to round out your portfolio.