Patents are one of the most powerful legal tools available to protect your intellectual property. However, due to the complexity of the process and the length of time it takes to obtain a patent, filing for one can be challenging. This is especially true of the application, which has very specific requirements for both utility and design patents. Understanding the challenges you face can minimize the amount of time and money you spend wrestling with formalities.

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Prepare the Application

The first step in learning how to apply for a patent is ensuring that you have included all the required documents in your application, arranged in the order specified by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). For utility patents, this includes a Utility Patent Application Transmittal form/letter, fees, an application data sheet, a specification of the patent being filed (complete with drawings showing the invention and how it works, if applicable), and an Executed Oath or Declaration. Depending on the nature of the item you are patenting, you may be required to file additional documents. Design patents are more straightforward and include a preamble providing information about the applicant, the title of the design, an overview of the nature and intended use of the article for which the design is to be used, a description of the figures included in the design drawing, a claim (you can only make a single claim per design application), drawings or other images showing the design, and finally, an Executed Oath or Declaration.

Submit Your Application and Fee Payment

There are several ways to submit a patent application. The most convenient and cost-saving method is usually an electronic submission, which also allows you to pay the filing, search, and examination fees online. You will have to pay an additional fee to file through conventional mail. Regardless of the option you choose, you should ensure that all fees are paid in advance, or on the date of filing at the latest. Payments made after that date will incur a surcharge. Note that the USPTO varies the fees depending on the size of the applicant. The standard fees only apply to large entities. Small and micro entities pay reduced fees, but you should always verify that you actually qualify as a small entity, since you submit no special form to do so. See section 509.02 in the Manual of Patent Examining Procedure for definitions of a small entity. If you qualify as a small entity, check to see if you can further qualify for micro entity status, which could provide you with even lower fees.

Processing of the Application

The average patent remains pending for two years, although it can be faster or slower depending on the category of your patent. Once your application is processed by one of the office's examiners, you will receive your first Office Action—which is basically a notice from the patent office that outlines any next steps you need to take for your patent application to move forward. If you included all the necessary documents, a clear description of what is being patented and there are no other issues, you will receive a Notice of Allowance and Fee(s) Due. If you pay these fees within three months of receiving the notice, you will receive your patent. If your patent is rejected, you will have to reply within six months with a request for reconsideration, providing amended claims, and an explanation of why your invention should be patentable. Otherwise your patent will be considered abandoned.

Patents can be extremely valuable, so even though the patent application process can be complex and lengthy, in many cases, it’s worth the effort. Even though you can file a patent application on your own, it’s a smart idea to get legal advice from a qualified intellectual property attorney who can help you navigate the ins and outs of the patent application process.

Get started Create Your Provisional Patent Application Answer a few questions. We'll take care of the rest.

Get started Create Your Provisional Patent Application Answer a few questions. We'll take care of the rest.