If you have a patentable invention, filing a provisional patent application can provide temporary protection of your intellectual property rights while you develop your idea further or seek funding. Provisional applications have a lower fee than non-provisional applications -- and you don't have to make formal claims or provide the same level of detail about your invention. Additionally, provisional applicants don't have to wait for the USPTO to examine the contents of the application. Your provisional application is valid 12 months from the date you file it -- and you can use the phrase "patent pending" in connection with your invention during that time.What You Can Patent
A patent provides you with the right to keep others from making and selling your invention for up to 20 years. The most common type of patent, a utility patent, protects rights in new and useful processes, machines and other things. These patents also can protect rights in non-obvious improvements made to existing things. To determine if your invention is patentable, you must first research all previous patents and other publicly disclosed inventions to ensure that no one else has already patented something similar. Because this process can be difficult and complicated, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office recommends hiring a registered patent attorney to conduct the search for you.What Does New or Novelty Mean?
In order for an invention to be patentable it must be new as defined by patent law . An invention cannot be patented if: The invention was known or used by others in the United States, or patented or described in a printed publication in the United States or a foreign country, before the current applicant filed for his or her patent. Someone else has made the same invention as you did. The invention was patented or described in a printed publication in this or a foreign country or in public use or on sale in this country more than one year prior to the application for patent in the United States. You or somebody else revealed your invention more than a year ago to the public.Direct-Hire Professional Search
If you want to save lawyer fees and mark-ups, consider going directly to a patent search firm. Searchers are best found through inventor grapevines, inventor associations, or university intellectual property departments. In larger cities, you can also check the Yellow Pages under "patent searchers." But be careful not to fall into a trap set by some disreputable invention marketing organizations. They list themselves in the phone book under "patent searchers" with a toll-free number. This is another way they hook unsuspecting inventors into service contracts. Get all the facts up front. Some reputable searchers ask for money up front if they don't know you. This is understandable. Just be sure you get the cost of the search beforehand, and get—and check—references. The cost to search a utility patent in the Washington, D.C., area runs between $500 and $1,000. It is roughly $100 per hour for a competent search. Once the search has been completed, if you want to obtain an opinion on the patentability of your invention, add the cost of your lawyer. If you need to show a prospective licensee that your invention has a good shot at a patent or that it's unlikely to infringe on an existing product, a letter from competent patent counsel may do the trick.The Three Different Types of Patents Issued By The USPTO
Utility patents may be granted to anyone who invents a useful process, a machine, an article of manufacture, or a composition of matter. Examples: fiber optics, computer hardware, or medications. Utility patent can be provisional or non-provisional. Design patents may be granted to anyone who invents a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture. Examples: the look of an athletic shoe, a bicycle helmet, and the Star Wars characters. Plant patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plants. Examples: Hybrid tea roses, Silver Queen corn, Better Boy tomatoes