Understanding The Patent Application And Maintenance Process

By:    Updated: March 30,2017

A patent is an official document issued by the federal government which grants someone the right to “exclude others from making, using, offering for sale or selling” an invention they've created. There are three types of patents: utility patents, which apply to inventions or discoveries involving processes or machines; design patents, which apply to original designs for tangible articles; and plant patents, which apply to the invention or discovery of a new variety of plant. The bottom line is that the patent process is complex and time-consuming and it's important to understand the various steps involved if you're considering seeking patent protection for your invention.

The Patent Search

The first stage of the patent process involves doing some preliminary research to determine whether there is already an invention or product similar to yours on the market. You can complete a patent search on your own or you may wish to consider hiring an experienced patent attorney to help you. If you plan to conduct your own patent search, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) maintains databases for patents dating back to 1976 and patent applications dating back to 2001. You may also choose to visit a Patent and Trademark Depository Library, which you can find in various cities across the U.S.


In addition to the resources offered by the U.S. Patent Office, you may also wish to conduct a patent search using additional online databases. There are a number of websites that will allow you to conductU.S.and international patent searches for a fee. When searching for a particular patent, the PTO recommends using specific keywords or keyword phrases and thoroughly reviewing the details of any similar patents you find. In order to proceed with your patent application, you must be able to prove that your invention or discovery represents some type of significant improvement if a similar patent has already been granted.

Completing The Patent Application

Once you've completed the patent search, you can move on to the next stage of the patent process which involves filing your patent application. You may choose to file a provisional or non-provisional application. A provisional application grants your invention a patent pending status for a twelve-month period which gives you time to determine whether to file a regular patent application. While filing a provisional patent application requires less work and expense than filing a traditional application, it will not in itself get your invention patented.


If you decide to file a non-provisional application, you must provide specific information about your invention, including the invention's background, a brief summary of its purpose and a more detailed description which outlines how the invention is to be made and used. The description must also demonstrate how the invention is an improvement to an existing process, machine or design if applicable. The most important section of the patent application is the claims section which spells out what exactly is being patented. You must include detailed drawings of your invention if they are necessary to understanding its function. Finally, you must include an oath or declaration stating that you believe you're the original and first inventor of the product or discovery for which you're seeking patent protection. When you file your patent application, you must pay the appropriate fees. The fees will vary based on the type of application you file and whether you choose to file electronically or viaU.S.mail.

Patent Examination

Once you complete your patent application, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office will assign it to a patent examiner. The patent examiner will thoroughly review your application to determine whether the invention in question is eligible to be patented and whether the application itself adheres to PTO guidelines. Applications are assigned to a patent examiner based on the order in which they received and in many cases the process can take anywhere from one to three years to complete. The patent examiner may ask you to revise your application during this time.


If you're filing a utility or plant patent application, you may request prioritized examination. The U.S. Patent Office grants prioritized examination status to up to 10,000 applicants per year with the goal of reviewing applications within an average of 12 months.

Issuance And Maintenance

If your patent application is approved, the U.S. Patent Office will send you a Notice of Allowance and Issue Fee. This document notifies you of the additional fees required in order to issue your patent. Fees are based on the type of patent application granted. Once your patent is issued, it remains in effect for 20 years. If you fail to pay your maintenance fees, your patent protection will expire. Patents cannot be renewed once they expire. However, they can be extended by a special act of Congress.


Pursuing a patent application is not something that should be undertaken lightly and it may be worthwhile to speak with an experienced patent attorney before you begin. A thorough understanding of how the patent process works and what your responsibilities are can improve your chances of having your application approved and make your dreams of becoming a successful inventor a reality.

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