So you filed your provisional patent on your new idea. What happens next? The sad truth is that nothing really important happens next. The patent office will electronically record your submission and give you an electronic filing receipt that basically confirms they received your files and your filing fee. A few weeks after that someone at the patent office will look at your submission to make sure all the required pieces are there, including:
- A specification (description of your invention)
- A cover sheet or transmittal letter that lists the invention title, inventor names, and city/state.
- A proper filing fee (currently $130 for small entity or $65 for micro entity) was paid and received
If you have all of these items, you will get an Official Filing Receipt from the USPTO. The official filing receipt looks something like this:
(note: the filing receipt shown above is for a non-provisional patent application but a provisional patent application filing receipt looks almost identical. )
As you can see it's nothing fancy but at least it has the nice name and logo of the US Patent and Trademark Office. In some cases you may get a notice of missing parts if you forget to include something with your filing. The only time I have ever received one of these for a provisional patent application was when I forgot to include an inventor's full city and state on the cover sheet. My guess is that the coversheet is the only document an actual human looks when you file a provisional patent application. All the other documents just sit on a large server somewhere at the USPTO waiting until you file your non-provisional patent application.
If no human will read my provisional patent application, Why bother?
As I stated above, it is doubtful that a human will actually read your provisional patent application. It may seem silly to spend so much time and effort on a document that nobody will actually read but its very important to have a good provisional patent application. Although a human may not read your provisional patent application at first, you will need to rely on your provisional patent application to set your patent filing priority date as the date your filed your provisional patent application. If your provisional patent application was done properly, this means that when you file your non-provisional patent application or your international patent application, those new applications get to use the filing date of your provisional patent application.
So after you file your provisional patent application you have several options to keep your idea protected:
- File a non-provisional patent application or an international patent application that claims the benefit of your provisional patent application (the most common strategy)
- Re-file a new provisional patent application (this assumes that your idea is unpublished, has not been sold, and has not been made public). Note there are risks with re-filing the provisional application as noted here: https://patentfile.org/can-you-refile-a-provisional-patent-application/
For more details, please read my post on the advantages and disadvantages of a provisional patent application.