The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) grants patent protection to inventors. A patent prevents others from making, using or selling an invention in the United States, or importing the invention into the United States, for a specified number of years. Inventors can apply for several different types of patents, such as utility, design and plant patents. Registering for a patent can be done online using the USPTO’s electronic filing system or through a document preparation and filing service such as LegalZoom.com
Determine whether your invention has already been patented. You can search for patents using the USPTO’s patent database (link in Resources).
Determine whether you need a design patent, plant patent or utility patent. A design patent protects the way an invention looks (the "ornamental characteristics"). A plant patent protects a new variety of asexually produced plant. A utility patent protects the way an invention functions (a useful process, machine, article of manufacture or composition of matter).
Decide whether you want to file globally (for international protection) or within the United States, based on your particular circumstances. In general, if you don't plan to do business outside of the U.S., filing a global patent isn't necessary. Note that with a U.S. patent, you can still prevent others from importing your patented invention into the U.S. from another country. Consult a patent attorney if you are unsure of whether you should file globally.
Choose to file a provisional or non-provisional patent. This applies only if you are filing a utility patent – if you are filing a plant or design patent, go on to the next step. Filing a non-provisional patent establishes the filing date and begins the patent review process. Filing a provisional patent application establishes the filing date but does not start the patent review process. A provisional patent provides some protection for 12 months from the filing date and expires unless you file a non-provisional patent within that time. In general, inventors file provisional patents because they are cheaper and allow for more development time before the final (non-provisional) patent application is filed.
Navigate to the Electronic Filing System (link in resources).
Log in to the system using your name and email address. Alternatively, you can follow the steps to become a registered user. Registered users are assigned a unique number for secure access to their patent applications after filing. Additionally, registered users can save in-progress applications and can file subsequent applications on an expedited basis.
Select the appropriate type of application under the "Main Functions" heading.
Fill out the electronic application. You will be asked to submit a payment method to cover fees associated with the application. After you submit your application, the USPTO will examine the application and decide whether to grant your patent.