How to Submit a Patent: Everything You Need to Know

Getting a patent is different in each country, and in the U.S., the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) handles all patent applications. A patent is an authorization or license from the government that excludes others from using your invention without consent. If you don't know how to submit a patent, you certainly aren't alone. Submitting an application to the USPTO through the mail or electronically is the only way to get a patent. This requires careful assessment of your invention, preparation of documents, and submission to the USPTO.

The First Steps to Submitting a Patent Application

Despite the complexities of submitting a patent application, many inventors have successfully tackled the process on their own. Still, it costs as much as $1,500 without professional patent drawings or a patent attorney. Federal law requires USPTO patent examiners to help inventors with the patent application, especially if the inventor has no financial means to hire a patent attorney.

However, there is a process to file for a patent that starts long before the application. The more diligent you are about documenting your invention and doing research, the better your chances of a successful patent application. To meet the guidelines for a patent, you must:

  • Ensure your invention is patent-eligible.
  • Describe all facets of your invention in detail.

Your invention is patent-eligible if:

  • It has a practical, useful application.
  • You are able to show how the invention works.
  • You can demonstrate how your invention is different from all other patents and inventions, as well as show its commercial potential.
  • It hasn't been sold or known about by other parties before you submit your application.
  • You conduct a thorough patent search from the USPTO database, the internet, a scientific or trade journal, or a Patent and Trademark Depository Library.

If you come across a similar invention during your research, it's not always in your best interest to submit a patent. When you're unable to prove how your invention is different, you may infringe upon a patent that already exists, creating a sticky situation in the process.

Professionally prepared patent drawings are also another avenue that's been proven beneficial. After you've determined the validity of your invention, these drawings show just what your invention does, while meeting the guidelines for patent submission.

Understanding and Describing Your Invention

Understanding and describing your invention is another huge portion of getting a successful filing. That's why many inventors choose to document and record every step of the process in a journal, from the conceptual stage to the finished product. Dating, signing, and providing witnesses to these journal entries further solidifies the chance of getting a patent. You may also benefit from building a prototype to solidify your claim to the idea.

Remember that a patent requires an entirely novel approach to existing inventions, or a new product altogether. This means that if a skilled person in the applicable field could reasonably create your invention without much thought, it won't garner a successful patent. This is why conducting a thorough search of patents is such an important task.

After identifying and describing the aspects that ensure your invention is new and useful, it's best to see if there are any other ways to make your invention. Even if you come up with a new way to create your invention that isn't your preference, it provides an added layer of protection against infringers or similar existing products.

When in doubt, always look for broader applications for your invention. If you find you can expand your invention to include other markets, it's in your best interest to make any necessary modifications. This will provide you with a more valuable patent, marketability, and strategic options in the future.

How to Determine Your Patent Type

Once you've determined your patent idea is novel, useful, and serves a practical application, you need to figure out your patent category. The USPTO classifies patents into three types:

  • Utility Patent: The most common type of patent, a utility patent covers a new invention that has commercial or consumer applications. It lasts for 20 years from the day of filing.
  • Design Patent: Design patents are inventions without a current practical application. Often used in the automotive industry, this patent protects the look or aesthetic of a particular idea. These patents last 14 years from the filing date.
  • Plant Patent: Plant patents are specifically designed to protect inventors who create a plant strain or hybrid that's developed through complex scientific engineering. These are most often applied to the agricultural industry. However, some of these apply to both plant and utility patents. Examples of plant or utility patents include a chemical- or disease-resistant plant, as well as plants that grow better in a certain location or climate. Plant patents exist for 20 years after the filing date.

Submitting the Patent Application

There are two ways to submit a patent application. Design and utility patents are eligible for electronic submission. The USPTO website makes this quick and easy while ensuring a safe, secure, and successful submission.

For plant patent applications and those that don't have the means to file online, a mail application is suitable. The forms for these types of applications are available online. They include the Information Disclosure Statement and a Patent Application Declaration. For guidance on how to complete either application, call the USPTO offices at 1-800-786-9199 and choose option 2.

Remember that each application comes with filing fees. An individual filing on his or her own would pay $730 for filing, while a micro-entity pays a minimum of $400. However, this pales in comparison to a patent lawyer, who may charge between $5,000 and $7,000 for his or her services — but this is usually money well spent to ensure a high-quality, thorough patent application.

If you need help with submitting a patent, 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 law schools such as Harvard and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or for companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.