Filing a formal patent application is expensive and time-consuming, and usually requires the services of an experienced patent attorney. You can, however, file a provisional patent application with much less effort and without retaining an attorney. Filing a provisional patent application will put your invention in "patent pending" status for 12 months, preventing anyone else from filing for patent protection for the same invention. This 12-month window will buy you time to file a formal application.
Complete the cover sheet, fee transmittal form and application data sheet. These can be obtained on the website of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. You must supply basic information such as the names and residence addresses of the inventors, the name of the invention and a correspondence address.
Create specifications. Specifications constitute a precise description of your invention using as much technical language as necessary. Specifications can be dozens of pages long in some cases.
Make drawings, graphs, diagrams and any other visual aids that are necessary to supplement your specifications. Your specifications and visual aids, taken together, should allow a person skilled in the field to which your invention belongs to manufacture your invention himself.
Convert all your documents to PDF files, if you intend to file your application online.
Calculate your filing fee by referring to the fee transmittal form. The filing fee varies according to several factors. Obtain a certified check or money order made out to the USPTO, if you are submitting your application by surface mail.
Submit the cover sheet, fee transmittal form, application data sheet, specifications, visual aids and filing fee by surface mail to the Commissioner for Patents, P. O. Box 1450, Alexandria, VA 22313-1450, or online using the USPTO's EFS-Web electronic filing system. The USPTO will respond by sending you an application tracking number, and will confirm your filing date.