U.S. Patent Application Process
Here are the basic steps to drafting and filing a patent application in the United States.
All patent applications in the United States are handled by the federal U.S. Patent & Trademark Office ("USPTO"). For instance, this agency evaluates patent applications and issues patents. This article provides an overview of that process, particularly meant for individuals considering embarking upon it.
Obtaining a patent is a lengthy and sometimes challenging process, and requires some preliminary research.
You must start by filing an application with the USPTO, which will be reviewed by patent examiners to ensure that it meets a series of qualifications. Before doing so, however, you must first:
- determine whether your invention has commercial potential
- make sure that it meets the requirements for patentability, and
- perform a thorough patent search to ensure that another person or entity does not already control the patent.
Once you are confident that your invention is a good candidate for patent approval, you are ready to start to prepare the patent application.
What's included in a Patent (non-provisional) Application?
The key elements of a patent are:
- the specification
- the claims
- the abstract, and
- the drawings.
The specification, with the help of the drawings, explains how to make and use the invention. The claims define the scope or boundaries of the patent. The application must also include an abstract that summarizes the invention.
The specification is constructed of several elements. Collectively, these form a narrative that describes and distinguishes the invention. Every specification must describe the invention so that someone knowledgeable in the field of the invention (whether it be medicine, machinery, or something else) can make and use it without further experimentation.
The specification must also disclose the "best mode" of creating and using the invention. If the inventor knows of a better way (or "best mode" by which) to create the invention and fails to disclose it, that failure could result in the loss of patent rights.
The particular parts of the specification include:
- Title of the invention. Your title should be brief, but also technically accurate and descriptive.
- Background of the invention. You must include the field or subject matter of the invention and a description of all relevant prior inventions. Here's where thorough research pays off. When you refer to earlier inventions, point out specific problems that your invention solves.
- Brief summary of the invention. This is an overview of what you claim your invention can do. Show how your invention solves the problems you described in the background section.
- Detailed description of the invention. Provide a thorough description of the structure and operation of the invention. It must be complete enough that persons of ordinary skill in the field could follow it to make and use the invention.
The Claims of the Patent
The claims of a patent are detailed statements of exactly what your invention covers. Because the scope of your patent rights are based on what you declare in the claims, they are among the most important section of the application. Be certain that your claims are worded carefully and accurately to ensure proper protection.
The Drawings of the Patent
You will also need to include drawings with your application, if they are necessary for showing how the invention works. Some applications (such as for pure chemicals) do not include a drawing, unless a process or chemical combination can be diagrammed by a flowchart.
Your patent drawings must illustrate every aspect of the invention specified in the claims. The USPTO has strict requirements for both claims and drawings, so be sure to study other patents in your field to become familiar with the format of these sections. All patent applications must include a drawing if the subject matter permits.
The Patent Examiner: What to Expect After Submitting the Patent Application
Each patent application filed with the USPTO goes through a rigorous examination process to ensure its completeness and validity. The application is assigned to a "patent examiner" (an employee of the USPTO), who inspects it to make sure that:
- the invention meets the statutory requirements for patentability, and
- the application itself follows the required USPTO format and language.
You and the examiner will exchange letters or phone calls until you reach an agreement about which parts of your invention the patent will cover, if any. This process typically takes between one and three years.