The striker found the net with a blistering 22-yard shot in the 84th minute after Calvin Zola's 12th of the season had pulled Gary Rowett's side level.
Torquay always looked a threat from set-pieces and could have had more than one goal before the break.
Ryan Jarvis narrowly failed to make the most of Rene Howe's header and also fired into the side netting.
But it was a case of third time lucky for the midfielder two minutes before the break when he was on hand to knock the ball over the goalline after a header by Aaron Downes.
Burton struggled to make openings, though Jacques Maghoma forced Torquay goalkeeper Michael Poke into a full-length save in the 24th minute.
The home side hit back to equalise through top scorer Zola, who latched on to a Billy Kee pass to drill home a 15-yard shot in the 59th minute.
The Gulls quickly had chances to regain the lead, with Howe denied by Burton goalkeeper Dean Lyness' double save, but it was Paterson's right-footed thunderbolt into the far corner that clinched it.