Updated November 4, 2020:

Provisional patent examples can be created by using a non-provisional patent application as a guide or by using one of several templates. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) does not offer formal provisional patent applications for inventors to use.

A provisional patent application is not nearly as detailed or complex as a non-provisional one. It is also not examined on its merits by the USPTO. Therefore, examples are fairly simple, and not standardized.

Provisional patent applications are also called "provisional application for patent" and "provisional patent application forms."

Parts of a Provisional Patent Application

No formal provisional patent application exists. Submissions must include the following information:

  • A written description of your invention
  • Drawings of what your invention looks like (not required, but usually desirable)
  • A cover sheet that lists the inventors
  • The fee transmittal form and filing fee

A provisional patent application should have enough details that someone could make your invention without guessing or experimenting.

To get an idea of what your provisional patent application should look like, use patent applications from your field as examples. Go to the USPTO website and search for other patent applications. Your search criteria should be in the same field as yours or a similar type of invention. The USPTO search is a basic search system, so try a variety of keywords. Give yourself time and be patient. You will find published applications to look over and to use as examples for your provisional patent application.

Why You Should Consider Using a Provisional Patent

  • You invented something that you don't want to be copied by anyone else.
  • You want to have the first patent on your idea or invention.
  • You want to use the term "patent pending" but aren't ready to file your non-provisional patent application.

The date of your provisional patent application also supplies an early effective date for your patent, once it is granted. This helps you if someone decides to patent the same idea after you.

Provisional patent applications expire after 12 months if you don't follow up with a non-provisional patent application. This is a good reason to follow the non-provisional patent format. You will then have your information ready when you need it.

Provisional patent applications are used to "timeshift" the length of time for your patent. Patents are active for 20 years from the filing date of a regular patent application. By filing a provisional patent application, you give yourself extra time to file your patent application. You also proactively place a claim on the patent for your invention to prevent someone else with a similar invention getting the patent instead.

It's important to remember that your patent will only be valid if your non-provisional patent application is accepted. When you file the non-provisional patent application, the form and information should be basically the same as in the provisional one. The only changes you should make are to add new information found within the year and claims you didn't include on your provisional patent application.

Why You Should Consider Not Using a Provisional Patent

  • You work in a competitive field with a lot of inventions and patents.
  • You are prepared to provide the greater detail required by the non-provisional application.
  • You do not want to wait the extra months to have your patent evaluated.
  • Your invention is ready to be used and does not require additional time for final development.

Although a provisional patent application is relatively informal, you'll still need to provide a full description of your invention. Remember that if you change any aspects of the creation that make it unique, you will need to file a new patent application. If your claims are not described in enough detail, the protected aspects of your invention will be limited, and competitors will be able to take advantage. The more thorough your descriptions, the more comprehensive the patent protection you will receive.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Using a Provisional Patent

Not every invention needs a provisional patent application. Weigh the advantages and disadvantages and think about your industry to make your decision.

Advantages include the following:

  • You get an early effective date for the patent on your invention.
  • You get an extra 12 months to get your full patent application together.
  • You pay less because you don't need to include all the claims about your invention.
  • You may get the first patent in a highly competitive field.

Disadvantages may include the following:

  • You'll pay more when you file a non-provisional patent application if you don't include all the claims in the provisional application.
  • The provisional patent application may be unnecessary if no one else wants to patent the same idea.
  • Provisional patent applications can take a lot of time if you supply as much information as a non-provisional application.

Your patent application must compare your invention to prior art to prove that it is unique. The descriptions of the distinctive features of your invention, known as claims, will be used by the examiner to determine whether your invention is patentable. Follow these steps to search for prior art:

  • Research the companies in your industry that hold the most patents.
  • Search the patents of those companies using free databases such as those offered by the USPTO and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).
  • Most patents date to their provisional application. You can pull these documents from public databases.
  • Review the documents to determine whether your invention is truly novel compared to prior art.

The patent search process also gives you insight about the format you should follow for your own patent application. You can use similar inventions in your industry as a guide.

Provisional Patent Example Description

The provisional patent application can be very simple. You can make each section topic a heading. Number your paragraphs and pages for easy reference later.

A sample order of your provisional patent application may look like this:

  1. Title: Use a short and specific title, about 15 words long. Do not use people's names or trademarked terms like "Ryan Reynolds" or "Google" in the name of your invention. You also want a phrase that is searchable if someone looks for patents like yours.
  2. References: Here is where you'll list other inventions like yours. You will also include other patents. The important part is to say how your invention is better than or different from the other ones that address the same problem. Example: "U.S. Patent 1,234 decreased the size of the hammer-head to pull out smaller nails; however, this change made it harder to use the hammer to drive nails into wood."
  3. Abstract: Share a short description of your invention. You do not need to go into a lot of detail here.
  4. Field of invention: Sometimes called the "technical field," this is how your invention fits in with other things like it. If you're inventing a hammer with a better claw for getting nails out of boards, you'd want to say that your invention relates to hammers, especially for people who struggle to remove nails from boards.
  5. Background information: In this part, talk about how people have used other inventions like yours, the problems they've had, and what led to your invention.
  6. Summary of your invention: Here you'll give a brief overview of your invention. Share what it does and how it works.
  7. Drawings: This is where you'll add any drawings or figures you have of your invention. Label them Fig. 1, Fig. 2, etc. Include a short explanation for each one. You can refer to them in your description. Make sure you use the correct number and the same terms to avoid confusion.
  8. Detailed description of your invention: Now is the time to share every detail of your invention. If it is a machine, describe all the parts. If it is a process, share every step. Be as specific as possible. You will also refer to your drawings in this section. The more information you share, the easier it will be to complete a non-provisional patent application. You should also include other ways your idea could be used. This can help prevent someone from copying your idea later and using it differently.
  9. Examples of how it will be used: In the hammer example, you might say, "This smaller hammer will help people remove bent or twisted nails from wood more easily." You may want to list more than one example.
  10. Claims: You'll include the claims of your invention toward the end of your application. These define your invention, what it is, and what it does in fairly simple terms. The claims listed decide how patent law protects your invention.

It's very important to submit a thorough provisional patent application. Poorly done or incomplete applications can create problems for you later. If not done well, the provisional patent application can be used against you, possibly by a competitor, to show that your invention wasn't complete and hadn't moved past the idea stage. Not only can a bad provisional patent application impact the effective date of your patent, but it could also cause you to lose the patent altogether.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Who can submit a provisional patent application?

You can submit a provisional patent before you've finished building your idea, whether it's a machine or software. You must be able to describe it and make a picture of what it should look like.

  • What if I change or add to my invention after I file the provisional patent application?

New information and more formal drawings and images can be added when you file for a non-provisional patent.

  • What happens if I don't put enough information in my provisional patent application?

The USPTO doesn't examine provisional patent application forms closely until you file for a non-provisional patent. If you do not have enough or the right information in your provisional application, you won't be able to use the early filing date in your patent.

  • How long do I have to file a non-provisional patent application after I file the provisional patent form?

You have 12 months to file a non-provisional patent application.

  • Is it less expensive to file for a provisional patent?

Your fees are based on the number of claims you make about your invention and whether you hire an attorney to help you file your application. You are not required to include all the claims in your provisional patent. This reduces your cost. You will still pay the full fee when you file for a non-provisional patent which includes all the claims.

  • Am I required to include drawings in the provisional patent application?

You are only required to add figures and drawings to your application if they help someone understand your invention. Patents for methods or chemical compounds don't necessarily need a drawing.

  • Can anyone find my old provisional patent application even if I don't file for a non-provisional patent?

No. Provisional patent applications are not made public as long as you don't follow up with a non-provisional patent application.

  • Can software be patented?

The USPTO has denied some software patents and slowed down the process for others since 2014. Software that improves how a computer operates, such as faster processing or improved security, are typically approved.

  • Should software companies apply for a patent?

A provisional patent application is sometimes a good option for software companies. It gives you a year to see if the government makes any changes to patent law for software. If you decide not to apply for the non-provisional patent, you can protect your algorithm as a trade secret instead.

Steps to File

After you put together all of your provisional patent application material, you can submit your application online using the EFS-Web option on the USPTO website. You can also mail your application and fee to this address:

Commissioner for Patents
PO Box 1450
Alexandria, VA 22313-1450

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