What to Know Before You File For a Patent

Calendar Icon Updated January 15, 2019
Patents

Filing for a patent is no easy process. While it may seem simple to submit an application, there’s much more than just mailing off a document and waiting for a response from the U.S. Patent and Trademark office. The entire patent process can take anywhere from 18 months to three years, depending on how thoroughly you complete the application, questions from patent authorities and the backlog of patent applications ahead of you. Other factors make patent filing a big decision, too, like the cost for filing fees and any legal fees from patent attorneys who help along the way. So, before you dive straight into a patent application, here’s what you should know going forward.

There are Different Kinds of Patents

Because there are so many kinds of innovations, from technology to machinery and clothing, it makes sense that they can be patented in different ways. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office offers three patenting options: utility patents, design patents and plant patents.

  • Utility patents are for machinery, items that can be produced and manufacturing processes (how something is made)
  • Design patents are improvements or changes to an item or process that already exists
  • Plant patents are for new species of plants or varieties of existing plants that have been created through scientific engineering

The different kinds of patents also give you the chance to see what fits your needs best, and depending on the type, can also impact how much you’ll pay for the patent. And, knowing which specific patent to apply for can speed up your application process.

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 Patents Have Time Limits

Each kind of patent also has its own time limits — that is, the amount of time your invention is protected before competitors can begin making the same product. At most, patents last 20 years before becoming invalid, but protection time can also be much shorter. Design patents can last up to 14 years, while utility and plant patents can reach 20 years. Patents can’t be renewed, but can be extended in some extenuating circumstances.

U.S. Patents Aren’t Valid Internationally

Filing for a patent in the U.S. can give you protection against duplication and theft here, but it won’t help you with international competitors. U.S. patents can only safeguard your innovation within the country’s borders. If you feel that your product needs additional protection from international manufacturers or innovators, you can apply for a patent in other countries, though you should know the patent process and price will likely be different.

Patenting Early is Important

If you have created a product that you believe deserves patent protection, it’s important to begin the process as soon as possible. In previous decades, the U.S. Patent and Trademark office would grant patents to whoever created the innovation first, regardless of when they filed. Now, modern rules dictate that the first person to file receives the patent. So, if you’ve created something that is groundbreaking, starting the process early can ensure you get credit for it. One avenue to doing just that is by filing for a provisional patent. This kind of patent offers a one-year protection that gives you time to complete the full patent process. Provisional patents also allow you to use the term “patent pending” in advertising and marketing, which means you can sell your product in the meantime. This kind of patent typically costs less (between $65 and $260), requires less paperwork and is awarded much faster than a full patent, but it’s not a substitution – you are still required to complete the full patent process within one year.

Patents Are No Guarantee Against Duplicators

While the purpose of a patent is to help protect your creations, it’s important that you know you’ll be responsible for monitoring competitors or fighting infringement. Simply put, it’s your job to ensure no one is wrongfully replicating your product. There is no entity in the U.S. that monitors this, so it’ll be up to you to work within legal limits to contact individuals or companies that are producing your invention, and work through the court system to prove they’re in the wrong.

Patents offer a lot of benefits, but there’s a lot to know about what they do and don’t do. For more information about the specifics of patents, visit the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to determine if a patent is the right move for you.

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