Overview of the Patent Process
Last time, we talked generally about what a patent is and the types of rights it gives you. We also touched on the differences between a patent application and an issued patent.
Today I am going to provide an overview of the patent process. Getting a patent requires a process, with distinct stages, and sometimes long timetables. If you expect to meet with an attorney for a few minutes or hours and walk out the door with a patent, you will be very disappointed! Understanding the process helps you understand what resources you will need and the timetables you can expect when trying to get a patent. We will talk in greater detail about each stage later, but understanding the process is important enough to warrant its own lesson!
The first stage of the patenting process is identifying what you want to patent. You will need to strategize about what technology, materials, or processes you would like to try to protect. This usually involves deciding whether it is worth pursuing a patent on the invention.
Expected Time Period: As short or as long as it takes to identify what you want to file a patent application on.
Patent Application Preparation
The second stage of the patent process is the preparation of a patent application for an invention you identified in the invention harvesting stage. In the preparation stage, a strategy for the patent application is developed. Identifying who the inventors are is also done during this stage, if not earlier. At the end of the preparation stage, a patent application is filed with a patent office of one or more countries. Generally, you will want to avoid talking about your invention with others before you file a patent application, unless they sign a non-disclosure agreement.
Expected Time Period: Once your attorney gets everything needed from you, it can take a few weeks to get the application on file.
Examination (or Patent Prosecution)
The third stage is examination or, as many patent attorneys refer to it, patent prosecution. In this stage your patent application will be scrutinized by examiners in the patent office of the country where the application was filed. They will likely issue rejections in a document (the document is called an Office Action in the United States), which you will have the opportunity to respond to. There are often a few rounds of back and forth (rejection by the office and a response from the applicant) before an application is allowed by the patent office or abandoned by the applicant.
Expected Time Period: Once examination begins, examination can range from a few months to many years. But it may take one or more years before examination starts. Some countries allow you to pay a fee to both reduce the delay before examination begins and speed up how quickly examination progresses.
Allowance and Maintenance
If you convince the patent office to allow your patent application, it will issue a patent! The details of your patent application will be published for all the world to see, and you will receive a patent number. Until allowance, you do not have a patent. Before this (and after filing) you just have a pending patent application. A pending patent application may allow you to market your product with “Patent Pending,” but it does not yet give you rights to prevent others from using your invention. Your patent office will ask for a fee before issuing your patent application, and you will have to pay periodic maintenance fees to keep your patent alive.
Expected Time Period: Begins when your application is allowed and ends about 20 years after your filing date for a utility patent.
Always keep in mind what stage you are in for an invention! You may have multiple patents or patent applications that are each at a different stage in this process. But the current stage will help you understand what your options are.
In our next lesson, we will discuss the different parts of a patent application so you can understand what they mean!
Notice: This course and its lessons are not, nor are they intended to be, legal or other professional advice. Please seek the advice of a competent attorney or professional for your specific situation.
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