If you want to preserve the option to get patent protection for an invention (a new concept and the knowledge of how to implement it), a provisional patent application allows you to preserve your right to seek full patent protection in the future. While full (nonprovisional) patent applications may take months to prepare, provisional patent applications take only weeks or less. They are also cheaper. Provisional patent applications expire after 1 year, but allow you to file for full patent protection without worrying about lack of patent protection in the meantime.

When to file a provisional patent application

When time is short

Revealing your invention to the public may destroy some patent rights, making it essential to get a patent application filed before your invention is revealed. For example, if after 1 year no patent has been filed, the public disclosure may prevent you from getting a patent in the U.S. Provisional patent applications do not always require all the information needed for a nonprovisional patent application, which may take months to complete. Provisional patent applications can be completed in just weeks, and sometimes even days.

When money is short

If your budget is tight, a provisional patent application may be a better option as well. The cost for an attorney to prepare a provisional patent application is also significantly less (sometimes less than a third of that for a nonprovisional application). Also, filing fees for provisional patent applications are less than a quarter of those for nonprovisional patent applications.

When a later patent expiration date is important

Even if you have the time and money to file a nonprovisional patent application, if you want your patent to expire at a later date, it still may be best to file a provisional patent application. The 1-year term of a provisional patent application does not count against the full 20-year term of a patent.

What you need in order to file for a provisional patent application

  • Descriptive title of the invention
  • Inventor(s) full name(s), residence information, and citizenship
  • Date of conception (when the idea was conceived)
  • First successful reduction to practice (when you first made a concrete example of the invention, if ever)
  • First successful test (if tested)
  • Oral and written descriptions of the invention
  • Date of first sale or offer for sale
  • Publications—such as journals, other printed publications, or Web sites (date and name of publication and/or nature of publication)
  • If applicable, dates for any planned public disclosures of invention
  • Technical description of the invention, including the following:

Statement of problem solved by the invention; statement of previous attempts to solve the problem and why they failed; references to any known attempt(s), both published and unpublished, by others to solve the problem; and a written description of the invention, including drawings or sketches.

Preparing to file for a provisional patent application

1.Create a disclosure of some kind. This starts the application process. The disclosure can either be a document that describes the invention in detail, a meeting with a patent attorney, or some combination of the two.

2.Get or create a detailed description and drawing of the invention. The disclosure may be used as part of this process.

3.File the application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Most patent applications can be filed online; a confirmation of patent pending status and the application's serial number are usually sent less than a minute after the application has been filed.

Once the application has been filed, the application process is complete. Provisional patent applications are filed and kept secret by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, but they are not reviewed.

What a provisional patent application may cost

Basic filing fees change on regular basis, so it's best to check with the United States Patent and Trademark Office for an updated fee list. In general, though, you will be charged $105–$210. Additional fees may be charged for longer provisional patent applications. You do not need to have a patent attorney in order to file the application; you can file it yourself. However, because incomplete or inadequate applications can be rejected by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, it can be helpful to hire a patent attorney, who is required to have a technical background. Attorneys' fees depend on their experience and areas of expertise.

Additional resources:

United States Patent and Trademark Office

Provisional patent application

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Trademark Registration Basics

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