What is a Provisional Patent Application For?

What is a Provisional Patent Application?

So what is a provisional patent application that you have heard so much about? -   A provisional patent application is a type of patent application which can be filed in the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).  There are many types of patent applications which an inventor can use to protect his or her idea and a provisional patent application is just one of those types of applications with its own set of rules, advantages, and disadvantages.    A provisional patent application can be used to protect

    hold your spot in line at the patent office

for a new invention that is either a method (including methods performed by software) or an object such as a new device or machine.

Types of Patent Applications filed at the USPTO

what is a provisional patent application

(note that some people will call a non-provisional a "utility" patent application which is not proper because both the provisional and non-provisional are types of "utility" patent applications as you can see in the chart above)

Another way to look at it - the engagement/marriage example

provisional patent application example

If you are completely lost, one way to picture this is to compare a provisional patent application to a proposal and marriage.  When you file a provisional patent application its like proposing to your future wife (or husband).  You are not officially married but your significant other is wearing a ring and letting the whole world know they are spoken for (like using the term "patent pending").  Once your engagement period is up, you can either walk away (not get married) or you can go through the wedding ceremony.  Just like when your provisional time period is up (12 months after you file) you can either walk away or file the next type of patent application called the "non-provisional".

In patent terms the wedding ceremony takes years.  At the end of the ceremony you should be married and at the end of the non-provisional patent process you should get an issued patent with a patent number.  Sadly your patent is only valid for 20 years from the date you filed it and hopefully your marriage is for life.


What is a provisional patent application?

Typically, the provisional patent application is used as an inexpensive way for an inventor to use the term "Patent Pending" for their idea.  The provisional patent application is only active for 1-year and has a low filing cost (currently $65 for most inventors).  After the first year is up, the inventor must either abandon their provisional patent application or file a new patent application called a non-provisional patent application.

Please remember that the provisional patent application is a placeholder that only lasts for 1 year.  Once that 1 year is up, the application will either go abandon or be incorporated into a non-provisional patent application.  The non-provisional patent application is the application which will eventually be issued as a patent and get a patent number.   The advantage of the provisional patent is that it gives you the early filing date of when you filed the provisional instead of the later date of when you filed your non-provisional.  This is important because often times you are racing with other inventors and if your patent is filed first, you will have an advantage (note the United States is moving to a first-to-file patent system in March 2013).


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Suggested Next Reading:  The Patent Process