Most inventors don't realize that there are several different types of patents out there. This can make figuring out what patent you should apply for somewhat difficult at first.
Getting your patent application right is important, and it starts with understanding the different kinds of patents available. These are the basics you should know:
Plant patents protect new types of plants that can be produced through asexual means, like cuttings and grafts. They're primarily used in horticulture. They cover things like new varieties of orchids or roses.
These protect the appearance of an item. Design patents can be very important in certain industries, especially where a company has developed a distinctive "look" to its products. The tech industry, for example, pays particular attention to design. There are a lot of complicated aspects to a design patent -- not the least of which is researching its availability.
These are what most inventors tend to think of when they first consider applying for a patent. A utility patent is very complex and includes all of the schematics for an invention, along with detailed instructions for its use.
These allow you to show that your invention has a "patent pending." They are less complex than a full utility patent and give you a year to complete the utility patent process. However, they're only temporary. If you fail to complete the process, everything you submitted as part of your provisional patent can end up in the public domain.
It's possible that you may need to file more than one application for your invention to fully protect it. For example, if you develop a new type of handheld gaming device, you will likely need to file both a design patent and a utility patent.
Because the applications are so complex, it's wisest to get some experienced legal help with the patent process. That's the most effective way to make sure you don't stumble on the road to success.