Home goalkeeper Josh Lillis was in fine form to deny the visitors a more comprehensive victory, but he was helpless when Paterson found the top corner early in the second half.
The visitors created a host of opportunities in the first half with former Rochdale defender Marcus Holness forcing Lillis to push his fierce volley over the top.
Robbie Weir ought to have opened the scoring for the Brewers on the stroke of half-time when he was left unmarked at the back post, but he scuffed his shot straight at Lillis despite being given time and space.
Bobby Grant's swerving long-range effort was as close as Rochdale came to scoring in the opening period, though Jason Kennedy also forced Stuart Tomlinson into a near-post save following a well-worked corner.
But Paterson gave Burton a deserved lead in the 52nd minute when he collected Calvin Zola's knock-down and beat Lillis all ends up with a fine finish.