There are many avenues an inventor can take to get an invention patented. Here is a general outline of the patent process so you are aware and prepared.

From the start, the invention you have is considered a trade secret ” so keep it a secret. Once your idea is public, you run the risk of being barred from pursing a patent on your invention with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

A way to establish a constructive date of invention is to file a provisional patent application. Setting this early filing date with a provisional patent application is beneficial since the Patent Office gives priority to inventors who are “first to file.” Going this route also gives you time to improve a design or commercialize an invention while using the term “Patent Pending.”

A provisional patent can prevent a competing inventor from receiving a patent on a similar invention. Filing this provisional application is not required, but is recommended in some circumstances.

This application does not require you to submit any formal claims about the device, nor does it require a formal drawing. You will need to provide a written description of how to use the invention.

Anytime within the following 12 months, you will then have the option to start the formal filing process by completing a nonprovisional patent application. This is when you or your attorney draft claims, drawings and other things to be added to your provisional application. The patent office will then start processing your application to determine patentability. The initial review process typically takes the Patent Office 18 months to respond to an application.

Fair warning; the USPTO will almost always reject your application.

When filing claims, good intellectual property lawyers try to get their clients the broadest protection possible, while the Patent Office is trying to grant the narrowest protections.

If a patent is approved immediately, a red flag should be raised. This typically means the claims submitted on the application were probably too narrow ” limiting the scope of your protection.

In response to a rejection, the Patent Office allows opportunities for parties to address the concerns for why the application was denied. The process often requires knowledgeable attorneys who have relationships with the USPTO to work with the examiner to develop language the office will allow. These back-and-forth interactions between the Patent Office and the attorney can take another 12 to 18 months.

Once the claims are allowed, a formal notice will be given and you have three months to pay an issue fee. Next, the Patent Office will grant the patent and it will be delivered to you in an official ribbon so you can proudly display your protected idea.

After issuance, there are periodic maintenance fees associated with a patent that allow you to continue to enforce it as the years go on. If the fees aren’t paid, the patent goes abandoned. A patent typically lasts for 20 years from the date of filing the nonprovisional application.

Getting a patent can be a lengthy process, but it is a crucial tool for you to get the maximum return from the invention you created. The journey can take even longer if you do not know how to approach each step efficiently. Consulting with an experienced IP attorney can get an inventor the help needed to obtain a patent.