Sometimes an inventor is not ready to make the commitment to a full patent application. For example, the invention may not be refined enough, or the business case may be unclear. In that case, you can make a less formal filing in the US Patent and Trademark Office, known as a “provisional patent application,” describing the invention with as much detail as you can muster. There is no need to describe the state of the art, the problems, or even the benefits. Then, one year after you file the provisional patent, you can start the normal patent application process and retain the effective filing date of the provisional application. The catch: you only can get that effective filing date for information that is disclosed in the provisional application. New things in the non-provisional technically are not entitled to the filing date of the provisional application.
Why is the earlier filing date important? Well, the first one to file a patent wins…period. Also, anything published after the provisional patent application, but before the non-provisional filing date cannot be cited against your properly supported non-provisional application.
Steven Saunders is an Intellectual Property Attorney at the Boston-based law firm, Nutter. Steven can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about Steven, See Steven’s Martin Trust Center Biography at: https://entrepreneurship.mit.edu/profile/steven-saunders/