The Provisional Application

This is used to get a fast and low-cost application date.  That’s important if you’re in a race with others to secure patent protection.  The Provisional expires in just one year but can be continued by filing a Utility application during that one year.

The Utility Patent (also known as a non-provisional)

This patent can provide the strongest protection possible.  It’s more costly and takes longer to prepare and process than the Provisional.  The Utility patent enables you to acquire a commercial monopoly on your products/services for 20 years.  During the 20 years, maintenance fees must be paid to keep the patent active.  After its expiration no extension or renewal is possible.

The Design Patent

Protection is limited to the outward appearance of a manufactured item.  It can be quick and relatively less costly to prepare and process this type of application.  The Design patent provides a commercial monopoly on your item for 14 years.  After its expiration no extension or renewal is possible.

Foreign Applications and Patents

The United States and most foreign countries provide their own “local” patent office which receives and processes patent applications and can grant a Patent. 

Additionally, there are “regional” patent offices that also receive and process patent applications and can grant a Patent.  An issued regional Patent can be applied to its member states.  This can save by not needing to file and process your application in plural local patent offices.


The European regional patent office (EPO) currently represents 38 member states (countries).  An EPO granted Patent does not automatically become valid in the member states, but may be received by any of the member states through a request.

When to file:

Under international agreement, after you have filed your application in a first patent office (priority date), you can file in subsequent patent offices within 12 months, retaining your priority date in these subsequent applications.  If 12 months is not enough time to determining your foreign protection requirements, you may alternately use the PCT procedure.

PCT Procedure (Patent Cooperation Treaty):

After you have filed your application in a first patent office (priority date), you can start the PCT procedure within 12 months, and you can delay filing subsequent applications within 30 month in 150 foreign venues, i.e. countries/regions, while, retaining your priority date.  The PCT procedure may be started in any one of its member patent offices and can be a first patent application on your invention. 

Things to know:

You can file a patent application on behalf of yourself, your co-inventors, or your company. Alternatively, you can hire a registered patent agent or attorney to prepare and file your application and handle its patent office processing. Patent applications require both legal and technical expertise and even small mistakes can dramatically compromise the value of your issued Patent.

Legally, a prototype is not required prior to filing your patent application.  But, it is extremely helpful to a complete understanding of the range of possibilities of your invention.

A Patent on your product/process can legally exclude copy-cats from your market.  But copy-cats usually make some changes to your product/process and enter your market anyway (legally or with infringement issues).  To prevent this, your Patent should present and claim every single possible version of your invention. Usually, this requires thinking “outside-the-box.”  Remember, your Patent is not just a description of what you think your invention is, but rather what your copy-cats might think it could be.

A Patent protects markets only in the country of issuance and once expired your competitors have the legal right to the market with your invention.