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A provisional patent application is a quick and relatively inexpensive way to declare an invention as your own. When you submit a provisional patent application to the United States Patent Office (USPTO), you establish what you have invented as well as a filing date. Filing dates are important in patent law because it establishes who created a particular invention first, and subsequently, who has rights to that invention. It may be possible that someone, somewhere, is currently thinking of your same idea! Whoever submits their invention to the USPTO first, and has an earlier filing date, will have an easier time proving that they invented it first.
A provisional patent is different from a full patent, known as the non-provisional patent. Filing a non-provisional patent application requires a significantly larger investment in time and money when compared to the provisional. A full non-provisional patent application takes an experienced patent professional a great deal of time to draft correctly. The time required of a patent professional and the time required by the USPTO to process your non-provisional application require you to make a financial investment into your invention. However, the option of a provisional patent application gives you the benefit of filing your idea quickly and inexpensively. It allows you to legally use the term “patent pending” when marketing your idea. After a provisional filing, you have 12 months to decide if it is right for you to invest time and resources into a full non-provisional application.
The reason a provisional patent application can be quick and inexpensive is because it requires significantly less time from both your patent professional and the examiners at the USPTO. Your patent professional reviews your invention information for errors and helps you put in the right content. Claims, which define the scope of your invention, do not have to be included. More importantly, when you submit your provisional application to the USPTO, they do not examine your invention. This means that they will not check to see if your invention is actually patentable and meet patenting critera. The provisional application simply serves as a quick and cost effective way to legally file your idea and hold a filing date. If you obtain a full non-provisional patent later down the road, you will enjoy the filing date of when you filed your provisional application. Furthermore, the time between a provisional filing and a non-provisional filing is not counted in the 20 year lifespan of a patent. In a sense, you have extended the duration of holding your patent rights. For example, if you filed a provisional application on January 1st, 2000 and then filed a non-provisional application on December 31st, 2000 which resulted in a patent issuance, you would hold patent rights from January 1st, 2000 to December 31st, 2020 (21 years). See a visual example in the article Patent Filing Dates.
It is important to note that only information stated in the provisional application can enjoy the provisional application’s filing date. Although information can be added when filing the full non-provisional application, information that was not included in the provisional application will only enjoy the filing date of the later application. Every provisional patent application submitted through Thoughts to Paper will be reviewed by a patent agent or attorney with recommendations on how to solidify your provisional patent.