Advantages of a Provisional Patent

Scott Thorpe asked:

If you have a valuable invention, you probably should get a patent. A patent is the ideal way for protecting most inventions. There are exceptions. Some innovations are better protected as a secret, such as hidden methods. Creative expressions such as books or songs are best protected by registering a copyright. But for most services, a patent is required to sell a innovation.

The best time to apply for a patent is before you reveal your idea or sell it. almost all nations, you forfeit your ability to patent your invention the moment you disclose it or offer it for sale. The one major exception is the US, where you have 12 months after disclosure or sale to apply for a patent. But in other countries, as soon as you disclose, you can’t file for a patent.

Unfortunately, most people with a great invention don’t have the money to hire an attorney registered to practice before the USPTO like me to write and send in a patent application. Patents are costly, and for good reason. It takes much work and practical knowledge to prepare a patent specification and claims that will be issued and provide enforceable protection.

I usually recommend that inventors that need a patent to file a US provisional application. Provisional patents are affordable and you can do the work for the application yourself. Since you know your invention, you will be able to write about easily.

A United States provisional allows you to file for a utility patent that claims priority to the provisional patent. This means that if you file your provisional patent on May 13, 2009, your utility patent will have that same application filing date for all the inventions you describe in the provisional patent.

Provisionals do have features that you must watch out for. You can’t protect an invention with a provisional patent. So you can’t sue an infringer Your provisional is kept secret until after you convert it to a utility patent. Your provisional will end in just one year. If you haven’t filed for a utility patent claiming priority to the provisional within 12 months, your application has no value. But for many inventors, 12 months is long enough to know if the idea is viable. Read more about provisionals at the provisional patent page at the USPTO web site.

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