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What is a Patent Application?

A patent application allows inventors to apply for legal protection of their invention, product, process, or intellectual property. When a patent application is approved, inventors reserve their ideas from being stolen or used by any unauthorized person or entity. Patents are valuable to preserve the value of an idea and to ensure that the original creator’s idea hits the market first.

Types of Patents

When an inventor decides to submit a patent application to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) , they must designate which type of patent they are applying for. There are three patent categories available in the U.S.:

Utility Patents

Utility patents are used for new, useful inventions that are not obvious to other members of the field the invention is in. Within utility patents, there are five categories:

  1. Processes
  2. Machines
  3. Manufactures
  4. Compositions of matter
  5. Improvements of existing ideas

Some inventions might be classified into multiple categories. Only one utility patent can be applied for, no matter how many categories an invention falls under. Utility patents are valuable to inventors because it allows them to create a market for their invention and to allow them time to develop it before it goes public.

Utility patents are good for twenty years from the date there are issued.

Design Patents

Design patents are applicable to new and original designs for manufactured devices. These types of patents are only granted for designs that are aesthetic or ornamental ; they cannot be functional in any way. When an application for a design patent is approved, the design is protected from use, sale, or export by others for fourteen years from the time the patent is approved.

Here are a few examples of what a design patent might be approved for:

  • Icons
  • Textile patterns
  • Photographs
  • Drawings
  • Sculptures

Plant Patents

Plant patents are almost always submitted by research scientists or agricultural experts for any new plants. When a new plant is cultivated or genetically modified, a plant patent can be obtained to reserve the rights to the plant to the applicant. Plant patents are effective for twenty years from the time the application is approved.

In order for a plant patent to be approved, the plant must be:

  • New
  • Not obvious
  • Unable to grow from a seed

Check out this article to learn more about the different types of patents.

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How Do I File a Patent Application?

Filing a patent application is the first step an inventor can take towards protecting their invention. The form to apply for a patent is available online through the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) website.

The patent application process can be broken up into five easy steps:

Step One: Gather Invention Documentation

Patent applications require in-depth, detailed information about the invention requesting protection. During the development process, it is imperative that inventors document every little detail when it comes to their invention. This includes but is not limited to:

  • Specifications
  • Drawings
  • Abstract information
  • Documents
  • Any notes taken during the development or testing process
  • Prototype details

Step Two: Analyze Invention

Before applying for a patent, it’s important to take time to analyze its eligibility for approval. Inventions must be completely new to the market and not obvious. An invention would only be considered non obvious if another expert in the same field would find the invention unexpected or surprising. If an inventor cannot prove these points, applying for a patent is not necessary.

Step Three: Research Invention’s Profitability

The main purpose of a patent is to protect an invention from being sold by an unauthorized party. This means that a patent application is really only necessary for inventions that have the potential to turn a profit. Before completing the patent application, inventors should research the market for their invention, ensuring that the product is something that will be profitable.

Another thing to consider here is the cost of filing a patent application. Application and processing fees can add up to thousands of dollars . If patent lawyers or trademark lawyers assist in the process, that number can be even more. Researching how well an invention might be taken in the field can help inventors decide if investing in a patent is worth it.

Step Four: Complete a Patent Search

Perhaps the most important part of completing a patent application is ensuring an invention qualifies for one. Before moving on to completing the application itself, an in-depth patent search must be completed to confirm that the invention is new, and that is has not already been patented by someone else.

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has a digital claims patent search program available on their website that is free to the public.

Here are a few other things inventors should search for while conducting research about the eligibility of their product for a patent:

  • Trademarks
  • Copyrights

Step Five: Complete Patent Application

Once an inventor decides to file for a patent, they have two patent application options:

  • Provisional Patent Application
  • Regular Patent Application

A provisional patent application is less expensive, easier to get approved, and gives the inventor a year to develop their idea before submitting for a formal patent. A regular patent application is effective for 14-20 years, depending on the type of patent being applied for. The status of an application can be checked on the USPTO website.

Here is an article about the qualifications needed before a patent application can be submitted.

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Costs to Get a Patent

The cost of getting a patent vary widely based on the invention and the complexity of the application. In order to get approved for a patent, inventors must compile even the most miniscule details into their application, which makes drafting the application a very time-consuming process. The drafting process can cost anywhere from around $8,000 and upwards towards $20,000 or more for a more complicated application

If trademark lawyers or patent lawyers are used to aid in the patent application process, the cost can be even more expensive. This cost can also increase if the initial patent application is denied and response is required, which can cost anywhere from $3,500 to $4,500. Typical patent applications are often rejected 1-3 times.

Here are a few more things that contribute to the cost of a patent application:

  • Maintenance fees
  • Filing fees

Learn more about the costs associated with getting a patent here .

Who Can File a Patent Application?

Any inventor who creates a novel, nonobvious, useful invention can file a patent application. If the inventor works with a patent lawyer to help file the application, they can transfer the right to apply to their legal counsel. Even though the right to file the application can be transferred, the right to be named the inventor of a product or process is nontransferable.

Get more information about who can file a patent application by checking out this link .

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