A patent is a legal tool granted by a government through which a private entity can register an invention for their exclusive manufacture or licensing. Patents protect the rights of an inventor to control the creation of their products so that they can profit from their hard work. In some regions, like the United States, the only entity allowed to patent the item or process is the inventor themselves, though this original patent holder can offer those rights to another entity, typically in exchange for compensation.

While patents are an important part of the invention process, they are a complicated idea for those without legal training. Many experts suggest hiring a patent lawyer to aid them in navigating the application, though temporary solutions like provisional applications can help you keep going in the meantime. That said, a poorly-done provisional application is not only useless, but is also a potential piece of evidence against you when you later file the full application. Therefore, you need to find a happy medium between saving money on lawyers and patent filings and leaving yourself unprotected in the event of a similar product or process emerging elsewhere.

Application Components

First up when you are getting your patent application together, you need to prepare drawings and descriptions. While many claim that drawings are unnecessary in a provisional patent application, the fact is a provisional application needs to have the same disclosure level as a regular application. If a drawing conveys necessary information about the patent, you need to include it. As such, it's best to include drawings in cases where there is any doubt as to their necessity. This is a part of the larger descriptive process wherein the filer is obligated to describe the patented object or process as thoroughly as possible.

Second, you'll need to work up an abstract. The abstract for your patent application is a simple statement saying what your invention does in a straightforward way. This section should include the name of the invention as well as information on what field the invention is relevant in and how it will be used. Be careful not to spend time trying to talk up the utility of the invention in this section as the abstract is expected to avoid advocacy for its subject. Just focus on the facts and you should be fine.

Another important step in this process is to conduct a patent search to find out if similar patents to the one you seek to file already exist. One thing you do not want to do is to try and cut corners by skimping on patent searches. This often works out poorly because bad patenting or an unacknowledged competitor could sink your project before it gets off the ground. While no patent search process is absolute, a well-done search can give you a lot more confidence that you are proceeding correctly.

When to File

One common issue with the patent process is the fear that early builds of the invention are not complete and that the filer might omit important details as a result. While this is undoubtedly true in terms of the finished product, it's far more useful to think of the provisional patent as a snapshot of the work in progress, protecting your work as it develops. Actually, defining the invention for the sake of the application might prove a useful way for the inventor to focus their work around key concepts made comprehensible to a non-technical audience.

Cost

Filing patents costs money, but exactly how much money it will cost is tough to nail down as it varies by type. There are several key considerations here:

  • Complexity. While straightforward items and simple mechanical devices will cost one amount, electronic items or new software will often cost more based on the amount of specialized work required.
  • Size of the entity. The fee also changes based on how large the requesting party is, with smaller companies paying less.
  • Quality. How willing you are to spend money on the patent should depend on how much of a chance the invention has of making money for you on the market.

If you need further help with understanding and preparing a patent application, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from top tier law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Stripe, and Twilio.