The patent application process is long and complex. Recent reforms in patent law have streamlined the process and the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is issuing patents faster than it has in the recent past but a patent still takes longer than you may want. The good news is that there is still a lot that you can do to get that patent more quickly.
How to Get a Patent
Before you understand how you can speed up the process, you should understand the basic steps for getting a patent.
The first step to patenting an idea is to make sure it hasn’t already been patented. There are a lot of records in the USPTO’s archives so this research may take a while. Once you’re sure that your idea is actually original, you write out its details, specifications, and uses in a patent application.
The application is filed with the USPTO and an examiner – a government patent expert, often an attorney – will review your application. If the examiner has questions, concerns, or finds errors in the application, they will send you an Office action, which is an official statement from the USPTO. Often, the Office action contains questions about your patent, and sometimes a rejection. You have to respond to these Office actions by clarifying and defending your patent claims. Once the examiner approves your claims, you can get a patent.
This is the part of the process that you can speed by turning in the best application you can.
1. Get the Invention Right
A well-written application will not make the USPTO respond faster but it will make the USPTO’s responses more helpful. Your patent application is the only thing the examiner will ever read to understand your invention. Your patent should be written so someone in your technical field understands how it works.
What makes your invention new? Your patent has to get the novel features across to the examiner and explain them in as robust a way as possible. If the inventor does not understand how the novel features of your invention make it unique, then the Office actions you will receive will reflect that misunderstanding. They will be imprecise, difficult to understand or wrong. The effort to educate the examiner after the fact will cost you time and money. It all can be avoided by explaining your invention clearly from the start.
2. Get to the Head of the Line
There are programs offered by the USPTO that get some inventors to the head of the line when they apply for a patent. Accelerated examination allows certain kinds of patents to receive priority responses from the USPTO. Inventions related to certain subject matter (terrorism, the environment or cancer treatments, for example) or for inventors that are advanced in age or ill, can receive accelerated examination. To receive accelerated examination you need to make a special petition to the USPTO and argue that your invention qualifies.
If you do not qualify for accelerated examination on the basis of your kind of patent application, you can participate in the prioritized patent application process. Prioritized patents undergo a kind of pre-examination and requires the inventor help the examiner by submitting more prior art and participating in pre-examination interviews with the examiner. There is also an additional fee. The benefit is completing the patent process more quickly.
3. Get on File
The sooner you have an application on file, the sooner you start the patent process. The problem is that a patent application is a long and complex technical document. Rather than spend weeks drafting the perfect application, a lot of inventors file a provisional application for patent.
In the United States, a provisional patent holds your place in line and preserve your filing date but lack many of the formalities of a full patent application. When drafting your provisional application focus on getting the drawings correct and using language that covers the full scope of your invention.
Provisional patent applications give you a filing date but they do not really make the USPTO respond any faster. They do, however, give you one important year. You have one year from your filing date to convert your provisional application into a full on patent application. You can spend that year finishing your development, testing the market or getting investors. You have a filing date so there is less risk if you discuss your invention publicly.
4. Get on Top of it
The delay is not always the fault of the USPTO. Inventors can extend responses on actions for several months. Taking month-long extensions on response deadlines can really add up. One way to speed up the patent process is not to delay it.
Office action responses can be tricky. They may require additional experiments, legal research and a lot of back and forth with your lawyer. Never rush a response but take the time to draft your application. If you draft your application with care then you can avoid the kinds of Office actions that require months and months to respond with an adequate response.
5. Get Real
Your invention is personal to you. It is your great idea and your hard work. It is precious to you but may not be to the examiner. You need to be realistic about what kind of patent rights you deserve. If the examiner finds patents that describe all the parts of your invention, then your rights are going to be limited. You can spend years fighting the USPTO and even take them to court.
Take the time to conduct a thorough search before you file your patent. Be realistic. Even if the difference between the patents you find and your invention is obvious to you, try to see it from the examiner’s point of view. Consider how the application will look to an examiner and set your expectations accordingly, otherwise you will spend years chasing patent rights that you won’t get.
Applying for a patent is long and complex process but there is a lot that you can do to speed it up. Most of it comes down to preparation, strategy and staying on the ball. The more work you put in the sooner you will have your patent rights.
If you want to start the patent process today, LegalZoom can help. Get started with your provisional patent application by filling out our online questionnaire. We help you complete the application, help prepare your technical drawings for USPTO review, and can get you in touch with a patent agent for further review.