The USPTO patent process starts before the filing of patent applications or the hiring of a patent attorney. All patent applications begin with the birth of an invention and all inventions start with an idea. Although an idea cannot be patented, there will come a time when an idea becomes a vision that will eventually cross the idea-invention boundary.

Detailed Description

For your invention to be fully protected, it must be described in such a way (with all pertinent details) that a professional in the same technical field will be able to create and make use of the invention. Once you or the patent agent or patent attorney you hired can do this, you are ready to begin filing the patent application.

Patent Search

To commence the patent process, you must carry out a patent search. A professional and comprehensive patent search gives you an idea of whether your invention can be protected. Once you've crossed this stage, you can then file for provisional patents.

Application for Provisional Patents

Filing for provisional patents is rather easy and such applications are not reviewed by the U.S. Patent Office. The current filing fee for micro-entities is $65, while a small entity (an enterprise with 500 or fewer workers) is $130.

If done correctly, provisional patents are great tools. It is not necessary to follow the exacting format details required by the actual patent application; however, your invention must be completely described else it may not be very useful.

“Patent Pending” Status

Patent applications can be filed even before you write a line of code since the main invention is the system, not the code. Once you file an application, your invention will have a “patent pending” status, a term which you can attach to your invention. However, you should note that the level of detail used to describe your invention during the filing process determines the patent's usefulness.

Patent Prosecution Process

You must file an application for a non-provisional patent to facilitate the commencement of the patent prosecution process. This type of application is filed when you need the U.S. Patent office to evaluate the filing and move towards the issuance of a utility patent. Once you file the application for the non-provisional patent, it is first reviewed by the USPTO. They determine if all the necessary details are contained in the application.

The Patent Law Treaty Implementation Act, which came into effect on December 18, 2013, changed the status quo by stipulating that claims and drawings were no longer needed to obtain filing dates. In theory, it is possible to file drawings after the initial non-provisional filing date; however, this is virtually impossible in actual practice. Therefore, once you've filed the application, nothing new can be added to it.

If your application for the non-provisional patent is incomplete, you or your attorney will receive a Notice of Omitted Items or a Notice of Missing Parts. A Notice of Missing Parts explains the details to be submitted, any fees or penalties due, and awards a re-filing date. On the other hand, a Notice of Omitted Items explains that you did not include an item(s) that was referred to in the original filing.

Addition of New Material

After the initial application has been filed, no new material can be added unless you file a new application or a continuation-in-part application. In such cases, you will be awarded a new filing date for the new materials; however, it is important that you are able to distinguish between “new matter” and the addition of claims.

New matter is defined as materials that are not present in the non-provisional patent application at the time of filing; however, if the material was mentioned at all, it doesn't qualify as new matter. Once the inventor's declarations or oaths are on file, the fees paid, and the patent application completed, the examiner must then determine if there are multiple inventions in the patent application or a single one.

At the USPTO, applicants are only entitled to one invention in a patent application and one fee for the invention; however, if there are multiple inventions, the applicant has to pick one to move forward to the next stage, which is the examination phase.

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