A patent grants its owner the right to make, use, and sell the patented invention to the exclusion of others. In the construction industry, both utility patents and design patents can mean substantial profits to the builders or contractors who hold them.
A utility patent is granted for inventions that constitute a new, useful, and nonobvious process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or a new and useful improvement on the same. In the realm of construction, the process for constructing a building or other structure can be patentable. Patents are not limited to the processes used for new construction. Processes used in the renovation or alteration of existing structures can also be patented as can equipment and tools used in the construction industry. As examples, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) has issued patents for in-ground pipeline monitoring, a roof shingle system, a method for building a house starting from a packaged structure, a method for moving and aligning modular house units onto a foundation, and a method for retrofitting the surface of a house or building.
Where a utility patent protects the way a building was constructed, a design patent protects the building’s aesthetic features. A design patent is issued for inventions that constitute a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture. For example, the PTO has granted patents for various house facades, an ornamental design for a base bracket that supports a brick veneer wall from a house foundation wall, a combined illuminated house number and doorbell, and a decorative house louver.