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.How long does patent protection last? (As of year 2005)
Utility and plant patents are granted for a term which begins with the date of the grant and usually ends 20 years from the date the applications were filed. You must make the timely payment of the appropriate maintenance fees. Design patents last 14 years from the date you are granted the patent. No maintenance fees are required for design patents.Meaning of Novel, Nonobvious, and Useful
New and Novel: For a United States patent the invention must never have been made public in any way, anywhere in the world, a year before the date on which an application for a patent is filed. Original and Nonobvious: An invention involves an inventive step if, when compared with what is already known, it would not be obvious to someone with a good knowledge and experience of the subject, for example, if you just make cosmetic changes that is obvious. Useful: This means that the invention must take the practical form of an apparatus or device, it has to do something.Is my invention already patented?
Determine if your invention is novel by doing a "prior art" or patent search, find out if someone else has already patented your idea. An inventor or hired professional can conduct a search of the USPTO records.More on Prior Art
Remember, while patent searching is a big part of prior art , it is not everything. If someone has made your invention before you without patenting that still counts against your patentablity. A complete search for prior art might include for example: searching non-patent literature such as any magazine, newspaper, or trade paper article written about inventions like yours also a complete search would include international patent documents (online) and not just those found at the USPTO. Do not make the mistake of believing that just because no one else is selling your product that it does not already exist. After determining that your idea is patentable and qualifies for a patent - you now need to decide if the expense of patenting is worth it.