Once an inventor goes through the lengthy process of developing an idea into a full-fledged invention, the inventor can apply for a patent on this invention so that it is protected from future use by a competitor. A patent for an invention is the grant of a property right to the inventor, issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), protecting an invention from being made, used, offered for sale, or sold by competitors.
Generally, the length of term for a new patent is 20 years from the date the application was originally filed. However, the patent application process may be as lengthy, if not lengthier, than creating the invention itself. It usually takes about two and a half years for a patent to be processed and only about 65% of all patent applications submitted to the USPTO end up being approved. There are several steps you can take to increase the chance for your application to get approved.
Filing a patent
You will first need to choose which type of patent application should be filed. In general, a design patent protects the way an invention looks, a utility patent protects how an invention is used and works and a plant patent protects the invention of a new plant.
Patents can either be filed online through the USPTO's electronic filing system (for certain patent applications) or via a paper application submitted by U.S. mail. However, both methods are lengthy and time-consuming processes. You then need to conduct a patent search to make sure your invention has not already been patented.
In addition to choosing the type of patent application, a filing strategy needs to be determined. The filing method answers questions such as whether your sales approach will potentially require international protection or just protection within the U.S. You may also want to consider whether or not you will need a provisional or non-provisional application, which may require expedited examination.
There are many benefits to a provisional application including stamping your invention with a priority date of invention—as well as being faster, easier and cheaper to file than a non-provisional application. Additionally, a provisional application is good for 12 months and during that timeframe you can use a patent pending label in conjunction with your invention. LegalZoom offers all of these services in order to assist you with the patent application process.
Maximizing the chances that a patent application will be approved
In order to maximize the chances that a patent application will be granted, an inventor needs to make sure the application is written fully, accurately and includes all of the corresponding documents that are required. If a patent application is not completed correctly, one of two things can happen—either the patent application won't be approved or the patent that is granted won't provide the inventor with adequate protection. The following documents, if completed and submitted in their entirety, will help maximize the chances that a patent application will be approved:
- For paper applications, make sure the patent application and corresponding documents are filed on the correct paper and adhere to the specifications required by the USPTO (i.e., free of holes, non-shiny, 8 ½ x 11, etc.) and are typed in black ink
- Include the names of each inventor who contributed to the invention, along with the date the invention was conceived
- Write a detailed written description of the invention, along with an oath of declaration and a claim that describes the invention and its abilities
- Create descriptive drawings that show every feature of the invention, and make sure the drawings adhere to the specific size sheets, type of paper, margins, and other details required by the USPTO
- Calculate the appropriate fees correctly—the filing fee, search fee, and examination fee, along with any surcharges that may be stipulated depending on the application
Two additional sections are imperative in order to maximize a patent application's chance of being approved: the claims and specification sections.
Experienced patent practitioners recommend an inventor first drafts the patent claims and then drafts the patent's specification. If the claims area of the application is not completed fully and concisely, an inventor may find that his or her patent will include unnecessary elements and limitations. These minimize the amount of protection the patent provides and, in turn, potentially cost the inventor millions in revenue if competitors can get around the weaknesses in the patent.
Therefore, this section must specifically indicate the subject matter in which the inventor considers the invention. For maximum protection this section must also define the entire scope of the protection of the patent. This is a large determinant of whether or not the patent will be granted and exactly how much protection it receives.
After the claims have been drafted, the next step is to ensure that the specification (also called the disclosure) is written fully and accurately for the invention. The specification will define the scope of the claims section, while also satisfying the written requirements for the invention's patentability. Some important aspects of the specification section include:
- A title of the invention that describes the overall concentration and meaning of the invention
- If the applicant has any provisional patent applications they must be listed in a subsection of the specification entitled cross-reference to related applications
- Two explanations of the invention (a background and summary of the invention) should be drafted separately to discuss the invention itself and its advantages in its particular field
- If descriptive drawings are included in the application, a brief description of each drawing is required
- A detailed description of the invention, which includes a general explanation of the invention, how to practice it and specific examples of this practice will illustrate the invention's patentability
Completing your patent application may seem like a daunting prospect and even though the patent filing process may pose some unique challenges—for many inventors, the reward of 20 years of continuous patent protection is well worth the tradeoff.
Through LegalZoom, you can have a patent search conducted on your invention, file a provisional application for patent, apply for a utility patent or design patent with help from a USPTO-registered patent attorney or agent, and get professional patent drawings (included with utility and design patent services).