A patent is a legalized monopoly in favor of the patent holder. The patent holder owns the exclusive right to use, reproduce, and distribute the patented idea, process, product, or model. Acquiring a patent requires the filing of a patent application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, called the "PTO" for short. The PTO reviews the patent application, typically requests amendments or further explanation, and then approves or denies the patent application. Generally, the PTO approves any patent application that meets the fundamental patent criteria of novelty and utility.
Research the PTO website for any existing patent that may cover your invention or idea. The PTO will not approve your patent application if your idea or invention falls under the description of an existing patent. The patent search utility on the PTO website functions best by searching for key words relevant to your patent. For example, if you invent a new drill bit, you will have to search for related terms such as "drill" and "bit" and other related terms.
Prepare a provisional patent application. The PTO website provides PDF forms that you can use to prepare all the key components of the provisional application. In general, you need to include a general description of your idea or invention. The PTO is quite lenient regarding the contents and specificity required in a provisional application.
Respond to any requests from the PTO. The PTO may get back to you any time after you file your provisional application, but in general, it will take several months before you get any kind of response. However, once you do receive a response, it is important to provide a quick, thorough, and accurate reply. Remember that you bear the burden of proving to the PTO that you are entitled to patent approval, so it is your job to provide all the supporting evidence and to address all the PTO's concerns.
File a final, nonprovisional patent application with the PTO. Unlike the requirements for a provisional application, the requirements for a nonprovisional application are extremely detailed. A complete nonprovisional application must include at least all of the following: information disclosure statement, patent specifications, patent claims, drawings or photographs, and a sworn oath of accuracy.
- Photographs or drawings of your invention
- Filing fees
Tips & Warnings
It is possible to file a nonprovisional patent application without first filing a provisional application. The benefit of a provisional application, though, is that is easier and quicker to prepare, cheaper to file, and it provides the filer with the immediate right to claim "patent pending" on the idea or invention. The disadvantage of a provisional application is that you must follow it up with a nonprovisional application. A provisional patent expires 12 months after being filed. However, that 12 months may be critical to a budding new business or idea.
Some ideas or inventions are large enough that they might justify filing for an international patent that is enforceable worldwide, and not just in the United States. A typical patent approved by the PTO is not enforceable outside of the United States. International patent processes and rights are extremely complicated and time-sensitive, so it would be best to consult an experienced international patent attorney if your idea or invention is significant enough to justify that expense, or if it is likely that your patented idea will have worldwide impact.
References & Resources
- Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images