People all over the world dream one day they will have the perfect invention to change the world. They want to be the next Thomas Edison, George Washington Carver, or Caresse Crosby. Maybe the future great American inventor already has their invention, but they have no idea how to file a patent application.
What helped make all of these people famous inventor was getting their ideas patented so no one could come in and take their ideas away from them. It’s a good idea for any new inventor to get a patent so they can have all the rights to their new invention. The process to complete a patent application is complicated, and it could take years before you get your patent issued.
Not only will you take a lot of time to do it, but it will cost money. If you do it incorrectly, it could cost you more money than it would normally. Going in alone could be a bigger headache than you anticipate. But there’s no reason for you to be discouraged!
Below, we’ve written a step-by-step guide on what you need to do so you know how to fill out a patent application. If you’re one of those people, please keep reading. By the end of this article, you will know how to file a patent application in America. Then you, too, could have a taste of changing the world one invention at a time.
Step 1: Check out the United States Patent and Trademark Office
Before you dive into the patent application, you should look through the USPTO website first. Going through the patent application process takes time and money, so you want to make sure this is doable in the first place. By looking through the USPTO website, you can determine two things.
- You can make sure no one else has patented your idea already.
- Make sure your idea can be patented.
For example, if you invent a bicycle generator, it has to be completely original. You can patent the machine itself and its use, but you cannot patent the unique formula you used to build it, nor can you patent the scheme you use to sell your patent or product.
If you want to patent your idea, it has to fall under one of these categories.
- A process or a method. A new way to make something ordinary, like a child’s toy.
- A machine. If it has moving parts or circuitry in it, it’s considered a machine.
- A manufactured article. Minimal moving parts, if any, at all. A pencil or a hammer would be considered a manufactured article. A coffee maker, however, would not.
- A new composition. IE: A new pharmaceutical.
- A new type of plant: IE: One created in a lab.
An idea alone is not patentable. It needs to be tangible, like a machine, or a new pharmaceutical. Even software and mathematical formulas can be patented, but this is a relatively new area of intellectual property law. If you use a mathematical formula to make a machine or the composition, that’s not going to get you a patent. The formula must have a use outside of your machine. You need to have the actual object to move ahead in the patent process.
If you haven’t taken the time to put your idea in the form of an object, you’re not ready for a patent yet, and you need to put it in action.
Step 2: Figure out what kind of patent you need
There are three types of patents you can file.
- Utility: The most common patent. These deal with the function of a product. 90% of all patents are utility patents
- Design: These patents deal with the design or look of the product.
- Plant: Beyond the scope of the everyday inventor.
As you look through the USPTO website, you will get more detailed information on where your invention fits. For example, if you’re patenting how the machine works, you want a Utility patent. If you wish to patent its look and style, you can apply for a Design patent. It is also possible to apply for both a Utility and a Design patent.
If you created a new hybrid plant, you could apply for a Plant patent so that no one else can sell your breed of plant. These types of patents are new and only came into existence in the 1930s. They are also rare that less than 1,200 are issued every year.
Step 3: Find a patent lawyer and apply for a provisional patent application
As you go through the USPTO website, you can get the form to start the process. At this point, it’s a good idea for you to hire a patent lawyer so that you don’t miss the smallest details to make an idea more valuable. A lawyer will also help reduce the chances of getting your patent rejected. A patent lawyer can check for mistakes and the little details to help better protect your idea. The more work you can do yourself, the more money you may be able to save.
As you apply, it may be a good idea to file for a provisional patent application as well. It can help protect your idea while your application is processed. Keep in mind that a provisional patent is only a document that proves that you were the first to file for your invention idea. It is only valid if your patent gets approved. It really is just a way to prove that you had the idea long before you finished your patent application. The USPTO website goes on a first-come, first-serve basis. Even if you are the first person to invent something, if you’re not the first person to file a provisional application, you could lose your patent and any protection it would offer.
The provisional application is an extra layer of protection while you gather everything you need to apply for your patent. It’s a good idea to get it before you begin the application process. These are complicated to write correctly, so you may want to consult with an attorney before filing any kind of provisional application.
Step 4: Become an eFiler
It’s easier to file the patent online than it is to do it by mail. You’ll have faster access to the resources you’ll need to complete your application. You can also look at a timeline on the website to give you an idea of how long it will take after you apply before you get a possible rejection or acceptance. You will also be able to have someone help you with your patent application via the website.
You can file by mail or fax if you wish, but there are fees to sending your application this way. These fees could be up to two hundred dollars if you send it through the mail! When you register for an eFile, you eliminate those fees. When you register online, you will get a Customer Number and Digital Certificate, making it easier for you to file your application online.
Step 5: Gather information and apply for that patent
For this step and the next, you’re going to need your patent lawyer with you, unless you’re confident in your abilities. The patent application can be complicated and confusing, so having an expert guiding you is always a good idea. You will need to know every little detail about your invention. The application is going to include these things
- detailed description
- legal scope
No matter how confident you are in your abilities to complete the application process on your own, it’s best to hire a lawyer for this part. If there are unnecessary errors or mistakes on your application, you will get rejected. And then you will have to start the whole process all over again.
Once you sign your application and file it with the USPTO, you won’t be able to go back and change anything with your application. Make sure you have everything exactly how it should be before you sign any of the documents.
Step 6: Work with your patent examiner
If your patent is correct, and the USPTO accepts it, you will be assigned a patent examiner. They will work with you for the rest of your patent process. If you used a patent lawyer, they’d communicate with the lawyer first. Then the lawyer will then let you know any of the patent examiner’s concerns.
The process can take years to finish. The average time for the patent application process is one to three years. However, some people have been waiting for ten years to complete their patent process. To make it go by faster, you’ll want to respond to the patent lawyer and examiner as soon as possible when you get any correspondence from the patent office.
Keep in mind if you’re working with a patent lawyer, use them to talk to the examiner. They will only talk to the patent lawyers if you have one. Don’t waste your time by calling the USPTO for updates when they’re communicating with your lawyer.
When a patent examiner communicates their objections and concerns, you will need to reply as soon as possible. If you don’t respond within the time limit, the patent examiner will mark your application as abandoned.
One of the ways you can communicate with your patent examiner is to schedule an interview with them so you can answer all of their questions. You don’t have to go to Washington DC to get this interview done. This can be scheduled online through a video conference. You’ll want to keep your patent lawyer around for that interview in case the patent examiner asks a question you don’t understand.
What if you get rejected?
Even at this stage of the application process, there is still a chance that your application can be rejected if the patent examiner finds a reason to object to any part of your patent application. You can argue your case if you think you can change their opinion.
If you do get rejected twice, you can appeal it through the Patent Trial and Appeal Board. The board will hear your case and conduct hearings about your patent to decide on getting the rejection reversed.
Step 7: Get your approval
If your patent examiner is satisfied with your application, and it meets all the requirements you need to get approved, you will receive a Notice of Approval in the mail. This will include issue fee and the possible publication fee, should your patent need it. You’ll also receive faqs sheet along with information regarding any extra charges you may need to pay.
Step 8: Pay your fees
If you have a Utility patent or need to reissue the patent, it will take at least four weeks after any remaining fees have been paid. Patent issuing times can vary depending on the type of application that was filed.
On the day the patent gets issued, it will be sent in the mail. It’ll come in a cover with a ribbon and seal.
After you receive your patent, you will have to maintain it every four, eight, or twelve years. Patents can last twenty years. If you don’t pay fees to maintain them over time, your patent will expire. The USPTO website does have a page for maintaining patents over time.
Why do you need to through such a complicated process?
Think of a patent like copyright. Musicians and writers need to make sure their work has a copyright on it so that no one can take their art and claim it as their own. It’s a tool that’s needed, but most artists hope they never have to fight a Copywrite claim. Patents work similarly.
Without a patent on your invention, anyone could take your invention idea and claim it as their own. With a patent on your product, you can stop people from taking your ideas and stealing them. You would be able to take them to court and stop them. There may also be the case for recovering any financial losses on your behalf. Keep in mind that if you get this far, fighting patent infringement is a costly process.
Step 9: Hang the patent on your wall
Submitting a patent application is a long process that could cost a lot of time and money. With the help of this guide and a good patent lawyer, you won’t be overwhelmed when navigating the patent process.
It takes a long time to process your application, but the day you open your mailbox and see that patent in the mail, you’ll be glad you went through all the trouble to get it. There is no guarantee of protection without a legal battle, but at least you can claim to be the first to come up with the invention idea.
Are you ready to become an inventor?
Getting your idea out of your head and into your hands is only the first in a long set of steps towards becoming a successful inventor.