How to File for a Utility Patent

By Michelle Kaminsky, J.D.

How to File for a Utility Patent

By Michelle Kaminsky, J.D.

A utility patent protects inventions that produce a new and useful result, and it is the most common type granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The process for securing a utility patent is straightforward, though you must be sure to follow all the steps and guidance closely to ensure your success. Many people have secured patents on their own, but because some patents are more complicated than others to obtain, you may also wish to seek the advice of a patent attorney.

To qualify for patent protection, an invention must be a machine, process, method, article of manufacture, or composition of matter; a patent protects its 'functional' aspects. A utility patent generally lasts for 20 years from the filing date, provided the patent holder pays all required maintenance fees to the USPTO throughout the duration of the patent.

Filing a utility patent takes time and requires attention to detail, but the sooner you get started, the faster you can protect your invention. The following are the steps to filing a utility patent with the USPTO.

1. Learn as much as you can about the patent process and the wisdom of applying for a patent.

Before you start gathering documents and creating diagrams, read and ask questions about the patent application process that you're about to undertake. The Patent Center on the USPTO website is an online portal through which you can not only apply for a patent, but also find a lot of helpful information regarding the patents, what they protect and how. It's also a good resource to learn how to obtain one.

As part of this process, you should critically examine your reasons and rationale for applying for a patent, as well as understand whether you want a utility patent, design patent, or provisional patent. Know that you cannot patent an idea, and you must be sure that your invention is both non-obvious, unique, and useful. Also, get to know your target market and sales and licensing potential to ensure that absorbing the expense to obtain a patent is financially advisable.

2. Compile an invention record.

As you worked on your invention, you reached certain milestones and achievements that you should record if you haven't done so already. These tidbits of information will come in handy when you're filling out your patent application.

  • These details could include:
  • Your goals in creating the invention
  • Descriptions, drawings, and diagrams
  • Pertinent dates
  • Any other individuals who were involved in the process

Having this information available when it's time to dig into the paperwork will make everything easier to gather for your application.

3. Conduct a utility patent search.

A rejected patent application can be a substantial cost for you to absorb. Accordingly, a crucial part of the process of getting a utility patent is conducting a utility patent search to determine whether a patent already exists for your invention.

The USPTO provides a Seven Step Strategy for conducting a comprehensive patent search, which includes accessing records of the European Patent Office (EPO). Moreover, there are Patent and Trademark Resource Centers (PTRCs) throughout the country that provide training in the Seven Step Strategy.

4. File the utility patent application.

To file a patent application, you must provide the following:

  • Brief abstract
  • Drawings and diagrams, if applicable (for certain inventions, they are necessary)
  • Descriptive specification
  • Claims

The claims communicate what you propose is useful, novel, and non-obvious aspects of your invention. Drafting them well is one of the most critical parts of a utility patent application as the patent examiner uses the claims to determine whether your invention is entitled to protection. You may have to defend or revise your claims, which puts the time frame for obtaining a utility patent at two to five years.

Filing a utility patent yourself generally costs around $1,000. If you hire a patent attorney, the cost could easily stretch to $10,000 or more. Cost generally depends on the complexity of the invention and claims.

Overall, the do-it-yourself approach to filing a utility patent is certainly possible, but it's helpful to know the process before starting. If you get stuck along the way, seeking professional guidance is advisable.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.

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