This guide concentrates on utility patents, which are the most common patents. Inventors can submit a provisional application to the USPTO, which is a basic means of filing a patent without having to go to the expense of hiring a patent attorney. Just to note, patents and trademarks are two related but slightly different things. However, it is important to remember that filing a provisional application is not the same as filing a full application, as a provisional application will not lead to the grant of a patent (nor will the Patent Office examine the application.)
A provisional application is simply a means by which you can claim the benefit of the application (in other words, that it was your invention first!) You must file the full application, referring to the original application, within a year. If you do not do this, the provisional application will simply expire. There are, however, drawbacks to the utility patent provisional application system. The application still needs to contain sufficient drawings to understand the invention, a coversheet to identify the invention, the names of the inventor (s) and the filing fee. In some cases, in the event of a challenge, these documents can be found not to be adequate. It is therefore worthwhile to make the effort, if you are going to file a provisional application yourself, to ensure that you complete the necessary information with care. In any event, you patent attorney will advise you to file a regular application that has been drafted by an attorney as soon as possible, and this is especially important if you think you have found a buyer for your invention.
A non-provisional utility patent application contains a ‘specification' which explains what the invention is, how it is made and how it is used. The specification consists of the description, an abstract, drawings and must contain at least one ‘claim.' A claim is the essence of your application and forms the legal basis for protection of your invention. Claims are always written very carefully as every word counts.
The ‘Abstract' is also part of the specification, which is a description of the invention ‘in a nutshell' i.e. no more than 150 words. The abstract is mainly used for search purposes and enables people to find out quickly what your invention is and does. Any drawings submitted must also be clear, legible and referenced at the appropriate parts of the description.
The other items that must be filed with a non-provisional patent application are; the utility patent application transmittal form, the fee transmittal form and the appropriate fee, the oath or declaration (which states who the inventor(s) is/are) and the application data sheet (which provides your details.)
So how do you earn money from your patent? That will obviously depend on what it is and the scope of its application. You can either manufacture and sell the product yourself, or licence it to someone else to manufacture and sell, or sell the entire patent to someone else. If you don't file your patent at all, anyone can file a similar or identical invention to yours, and reap the benefits from it. Of course, if your patent application isn't filed properly, you can risk delay to your own application or even render it useless. This could have the potential to lose you not only the money spent on filing the application but also any future profits.
It is therefore very important that you file your application, whether preliminary or otherwise, correctly, not least because a patent application is a legal document. If you have a potentially valuable invention, it is worth consulting a patent attorney before you decide to lodge your application. This will give you peace of mind that your invention is filed correctly and you are provided protection at the earliest possible opportunity.