How to Register a Patent

by Victoria McGrath
A provisional patent application covers pending patents for up to 12 months.

A provisional patent application covers pending patents for up to 12 months.

Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images

An inventor applies for a patent through a process called "prosecution" rather than registration. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office oversees patent prosecution and trademark registration. Patents do not automatically qualify for any type of intellectual property rights, as trademarks or copyrights do. Trademarks and copyrights automatically qualify for property rights, as soon as they meet minimal legal qualifications. A trademark or copyright owner may elect optional federal registration for additional protection. An inventor must submit a provisional or nonprovisional patent application, complete the prosecution process and have the patent approved by the federal government.

Patent Application Process

The patent application process requires many detailed, complex and technical steps. Each can be time consuming and expensive. Professional legal representation by an attorney or specialized agent may be useful. The patent applicant starts the application process with an initial search of approved and pending patent applications. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office maintains a Patent Full-Text Database of federal patents. If an invention has previously been patented, the USPTO will deny an application for the same invention. If the invention is not found in the federal database, the inventor can proceed with the application process. The USPTO must examine the application and approve the patent in order for the inventor to hold exclusive rights to sell and profit from the invention. You can potentially sell and profit from the invention without a patent, but others can, too.

Types of Patent Applications

The USPTO accepts applications for three types of patents: utility patents, design patents and plant patents. Utility patents cover mechanical machines, manufacturing equipment and products, chemical compositions and operating processes. Design patents cover ornamental characteristics or designs on an article. Plant patents specifically cover inventions or discoveries of a new and distinct type of plant that the inventor replicates through asexual reproduction. Inventors may apply for numerous patents related to a single invention. For example, a computer requires utility patents for internal processes and design patents for external design elements. Patents should be filed with individual countries globally for international protection and with the USPTO for federal protection.

Provisional Patent and Nonprovisional Patent

The U.S. offers provisional and nonprovisional patents for utility patents and plant patents. A provisional patent lasts for 12 months and allows an inventor to market his invention with a patent-pending status. A nonprovisional patent application must be filed within 12 months after filing the provisional patent application, in order to convert the provisional patent into a nonprovisional patent. The nonprovisional patent application must correspond directly with the provisional patent application, including the same inventors and description of the invention. Provisional patents do not apply to design patents. An online legal document service can help explain the application and expedite the filing process.

Patent Application Process

The patent prosecution process begins when the application is filed. The provisional or nonprovisional application must be completed, with the name of each inventor, a written description of the invention, a drawing of the invention and filing fees. The application must include a signed oath by the inventor confirming that he is the first to invent the invention to be patented. The inventor can file on his own or through a registered patent attorney or agency. The name of the filing attorney or agent must be provided in the application. The application can be filed through the mail or the electronic filing system, called the EFS-Web, on the USPTO website.