Updated November 12, 2020:

Provisional Patent Application Number

Since provisional patent applications are not published, one of the only ways for someone to check on the status of a provisional patent application is to know the provisional patent application number. You can find out an application number by searching Public Pair (Patent Application and Information Retrieval), which is a search portal maintained by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“U.S. PTO”). Once you have the application number, you may submit a written request to the U.S. PTO and they will provide you with details of the application.

What to Know Before You Search for a Provisional Patent

Because of the nature of a provisional patent, a provisional patent application might not give you the information you are looking for. By its very terms, it is merely provisional and has not gone through the rigorous process that a normal patent application must go through. There is no way of knowing what the final claims are since it is likely much of the information in the provisional application will be modified once the normal patent application is filed.

Thus, you should instead think about searching for relevant pending patents or similar patents that have already been issued. It is recommended you do this at some point early on in the process anyway since it can reveal if there is already a similar patent that could end up being the basis for your patent’s rejection. This can save you time and money in the long run.

How to Search for a Provisional Patent Application

A typical U.S. patent application is automatically published after eighteen months of the earliest priority date unless the owner files a non-publication request. Once a patent application is filed, the U.S. PTO will make it available to the public, even if a patent has not yet been issued. In addition, any patents that have already been issued are always available to the public.

However, unlike a patent application, provisional patent applications are almost never published. Because they are only pending, they are not examined as thoroughly. A provisional patent application will be considered pending for one year. After one year, if the applicant does not file a patent application, the provisional application will be considered abandoned and will not get published.

Provisional patent applications are only ever “published” for inspection by the U.S. PTO in two very narrow circumstances. A provisional patent application can be found on the Public PAIR portal if a non-provisional application claims priority over the provisional application and the non-provisional patent is subsequently either:

• Published, or

• Granted

In these two circumstances, the provisional patent that accompanies the published or granted non-provisional patent is available to the public by either searching the Public PAIR portal or making a request to the U.S. PTO.

Filing a Non-provisional Patent Application After a Provisional Patent

Once an applicant has filed a provisional patent and the U.S. PTO accepts the application as complete, there are no further requirements until the applicant submits the non-provisional patent. There is also no way to check the status of a provisional patent application since the status is either “not complete” or “complete.”

When the applicant files a utility, non-provisional patent, he or she can use the provisional patent application number to claim priority. This means that the applicant now has one year to complete the non-provisional application or else it will be considered abandoned. To find your unpublished provisional patent application,  you can search the Private PAIR portal on the U.S. PTO website, which will need you to verify your identity or your attorney’s identity.

Patent Application Numbers

Application numbers on a patent always take on the same form. They typically start with a 2 digit serial number and is followed by a 6 digit serial number. When the 6 digit serial number hits 99999, the series number will increase by one.

A provisional patent application number will start with either 60, 61 or 62, and followed by the 6 digit serial number. Different types of patents will start with different serial numbers. For example, design patents start with the 29 as the serial number.

If you need help searching for a provisional 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 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, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.