What is a poor mans patent?
The poor mans patent was a cheap way for inventors to document their date of invention. The strategy was to mail yourself an envelope that was dated and sealed and contained your invention description. If you ever had to prove your invention date you could (in theory) use this as a way to prove your date of invention. Many people would use US certified mail to establish a proper mailing and receipt date for the package. It is not clear how effective this strategy was but it became so popular we often hear people still recommending it 10+ years after it stopped working.
Why is the date of invention important?
Prior to 2013 the United States used a “first to invent” patent system. This means that whoever could prove they had invented something earlier could potential win in a patent fight between two parties. Using the poor mans patent was therefore a cheap and easy way to prove your invention date. The plan would be to wait until you were in a patent dispute with someone and then use your sealed “poor mans patent” as proof of your invention date.
Does the Poor Mans Patent Still work?
No. The poor mans patent officially dies in 2013 when the United States moved to a “first to file” patent system. This means that it does not matter when you invented something, it only matters when you got your patent filed. Here is an example. Bob invented a new lawnmower attachment to hold his favorite beverage on January 1, 2015. Bob never did anything with this other than mail himself a poor mans patent February 5, 2015. Bob eventually got around to filing his patent on April 15, 2019. Meanwhile, Jason invented the same beverage holder one year after Bob but Jason got his patent filed first on January 10, 2016. In this example Jason was the first to file so he will get the patent even though Bob invented it first and has a poor mans patent.
Don’t use the Poor Mans Patent. Play it safe and at a minimum file your own provisional patent application which only costs $60 for most inventors. If you have not signed up for our free patent template you can do that below.