While technically anyone may file for a United States patent, most people enlist the aid of a patent attorney or patent agent to assist them with the complicated patent filing process, such as when filing for a pharmaceutical patent. U.S. citizenship is not a requirement to request a patent in this country. A provisional application may be filed to retain rights while the invention is developed further and the commercial possibilities are explored. Provisional applications do not require a formal patent claim, an oath, or a declaration. The provisional period lasts for 12 months, after which a regular patent application must be filed to retain the inventor's rights. This 12 month time period is not eligible for an extension.
When a regular, non-provisional patent application is filed, it is given a serial number and assigned to a designated Patent Examiner. This official is responsible for reviewing the technical specifications of the proposed idea and making sure it will be feasible and has not been previously patented by another person. This review process can take anywhere from several months to over a year, depending on the U.S. Patent Office's workload at the time. The applicant is given a couple of chances to respond to the Patent Examiner's questions or concerns during this review period.
The first step taken by the Patent Examiner is to make sure the application complies with all formal requirements of the patent filing process. Next, the application is reviewed against prior patents and the First Office Action is issued, detailing the Examiner's findings. If problems are found with the patent application, the applicant is given the chance to answer with the First Applicant's Response. Some common responses include amending the claim to distinguish it from prior art or attempting to prove utility and/or non-obviousness of the proposed idea.
After the applicant's response, the Patent Examiner will review the claim again. If the deficiencies have been adequately corrected, the Examiner will declare that the idea is eligible for a patent and issue a Notice of Allowance. If there are still issues with the claim, a Second Office Action will be issued. As with the First Office Action, the applicant is allowed to respond. After the Second Applicant's Response, a final review will be done and either a Notice of Allowance or a Final Rejection will be issued. If the application is rejected, the inventor may appeal or simply re-file a new, modified application and start the patent filing process again from the beginning.