The Patent Process - Overview
Obtaining a patent in the United States takes about three to seven years depending on the backlog in the "art unit" which will handle your application. The chart to the right illustrates the process.
Inventor Disclosure, Novelty Search, Patent Application Drafting
Upon providing information about your invention to me, including what it does, how it works, how it is an improvement over the prior art, and what is the closest relevant art, a novelty search is required. A novelty search involves finding the appropriate classes and subclasses where your invention fits at the U.S. Patent Office and reviewing all relevant patents as well as searching through periodicals and learned journals, if applicable. Click here for more detailed information on novelty searches. Patentability / Novelty Searches
This step is important because based on the art uncovered, your attorney can evaluate how broadly you may obtain patent protection. With this information in hand, you can then determine whether it is worthwhile to spend the money and time to obtain patent protection. Without a search, filing a patent is often a shot in the dark. You might be selling yourself short by claiming far less than is available or you might be claiming too broadly so that the Patent Office will reject your invention as already existing.
Once the search is complete, the application is drafted and if it is a utility patent, it is complete with claims, background of your invention, a summary of your invention, figures, and a detailed technical description of your invention meeting the statutory requirements as outlined in the previous pages.
Filing and Examination
Filing an application allows you to mark your products with "patent pending." Once filed at the Patent Office, according to international treaties, you will have a year to file the application in foreign countries. (In some cases, it may be desirable to file an international patent application in the first instance.) Each country, or sometimes groups of countries, has a procedure for obtaining patents in their respective jurisdictions.
At the U.S. Patent Office, after filing requirements are complete, your application is examined by an Examiner. Patent application prosecution can vary widely and is often somewhat subjective. The time and expense is based upon the complexity of the rejection, the reasonableness of the Examiner, the closeness of the prior art as compared to the scope of patent protection claimed, and the quality of the communication with the Examiner.
Typically, an "Office Action" discussing and arguing the scope of patentability will be issued. In most cases, a Response is necessary to address issues raised by the Examiner and/or amend what is claimed. Usually, after one or two Responses, outstanding issues are resolved as to the form of the claims and the scope of protection.
Patent Grant and Maintenance Fees
After allowance, and upon payment of issuance fees, the application issues into a patent granting an exclusive right to exclude others from making, using, or selling your invention as defined in the claims of your patent for a period of time, which in the United States is 20 years from your earliest filing date.
After your patent has issued, maintenance fees must be paid by the 4th, 8th, and 12th years from the date of issue to maintain your rights.