The Provisional Application for Patent was designed to solve an age-old problem. You want to see if your invention has commercial appeal, but if you tell people, you run the risk they will "steal" the idea.
Before 1995, inventors could either build the invention themselves, or they could file a full patent application before telling anyone about their invention. However, there were significant problems with both approaches. First, it is time-consuming and expensive to build a working prototype, especially one based on new technologies. Second, the preparation of a full patent application can cost thousands of dollars.
The solution was the Provisional Application for Patent. According to the USPTO, a Provisional Application is designed to provide a "lower-cost first patent filing." A Provisional Application lets you quickly secure an initial filing date for your invention and allows you to use legally the words "patent pending." These words serve as a strong warning: anyone who copies your invention risks being sued for patent infringement.
Once a Provisional Application is filed, you have 12 months to test your idea and seek funding before filing a corresponding full patent application. Filing a corresponding Non-Provisional Patent Application before the end of the 12-month provisional period gives you the original filing date of the Provisional Application. In other words, if you filed your provisional application on January 1, 2007 and then file your corresponding Non-Provisional Patent Application on December 31, 2007, the filing date for the patent will be January 1, 2007.
If you decide not to move forward with a Non-Provisional Patent Application, you can simply abandon it, knowing your upfront costs were minimal.*
*If 12 months elapse following your filing of a Provisional Application, and you have in any way publicly disclosed your invention, you may lose your ability to patent your invention.
When you’re ready to get a provisional application for your patent, LegalZoom can help you. Complete our online questionnaire to get started. You have the option of using patent illustrators to create technical drawings, and when you’re done, we file the paperwork for you.