How Long Does the Patent Application Process Take? What to Expect

Rich Goldstein

Founder & Principal Patent Attorney
An attorney watching his client signs the paper

“How long does the patent application process take?” – This is a question almost every applicant has before they start the application process. Since approval isn’t instant, it does help to know how long you’ll be waiting before you finally get that patent. In this article, we’ll answer this question in detail.

How Long Does the Patent Application Process Take? What to Expect

From the point of filing to the point of a patent being granted takes an average of 22 months. You begin by deciding whether to file a provisional or nonprovisional application. A provisional application offers you some protection from idea theft while you’re still in the developing stage and grants you 12 months to file a nonprovisional application.

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Conversely, a nonprovisional application is the comprehensive request that initiates the examination process. This process involves several steps:

  1. Filing the application: You submit your nonprovisional application, ensuring it meets the formal requirements. This includes an abstract, a detailed description, claims, drawings (if necessary), and the appropriate fees.
  2. Receiving a filing receipt: The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) confirms receipt and gives you a serial number and filing date.
  3. Patent examination: A patent examiner is assigned to review your application. This includes examining your claims against prior art to determine if your invention is novel and non-obvious.
  4. Office Actions: Expect to receive Office Actions, which are official communications from your examiner. These may require responses or adjustments to your patent application.
  5. Allowance or issuance: Your patent will be allowed if the examiner is satisfied that it meets all the relevant criteria. After paying the issue fee, your invention is officially patented.

Remember that communication with the USPTO is critical throughout this process. Regularly check the status of your application and comply with deadlines to make sure your invention moves smoothly through the system.

Preparing Your Patent Application

Before submitting your patent application, careful planning and thorough research are critical. During the preparation stage, you’ll be drafting claims and drawings, conducting a patent search, and deciding on the type of application that suits your invention best.

Drafting Claims and Drawings

When drafting claims for your patent application, focus on clearly defining the boundaries of your invention’s protection. Your claims should be precise and detailed, capturing the novel aspects of your invention. They function as the legal definition of your invention and determine the scope of patent protection.

For a design patent, make sure your drawings are detailed representations of the visual ornamental aspects of your design, as they are important in defining your patent’s coverage. For a utility patent, include drawings that illustrate your invention’s structural or functional features if they are needed to understand it.

Conducting a Patent Search

A patent search is a vital step in the application process. It will help you determine if your invention is novel by checking whether existing patents or published patent applications are similar to your invention. You can perform a preliminary search using USPTO’s patent database or seek professional patent search services for a more thorough investigation.

Deciding Between Provisional and Nonprovisional

Understanding the difference between a provisional and a nonprovisional patent application is key to choosing which is better for you. A provisional application is often less formal, requires fewer details, and is a sureshot way of establishing an early filing date, giving you a one-year window to file a nonprovisional application. 

Filing a provisional application also allows the inventor to use the term “patent pending”, which can deter potential competitors and attract investors.

You’ll need to submit a nonprovisional application for formal patent protection that leads to an actual patent issuance. This comprehensive application demands full disclosure of your invention, complete with claims, detailed descriptions, and necessary drawings.

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Submission and Fees

Embarking on the patent application journey involves preparing your documentation carefully and paying associated costs. Here’s what you need to know about filing your application and navigating the fee structure: 

  • Start by submitting your patent application, which requires a basic filing fee.
  • Make sure paperwork, including any drawings and detailed descriptions of your invention, is in order.
  • Draft your application with the help of a patent attorney if you’re unfamiliar with patent law to avoid irreversible mistakes.

The fee structure for patent applications consists of several parts. These fees depend on whether you are classified as a large entity or qualify for a reduced rate as a small entity or micro-entity. Here’s the fee breakdown:

  • Filing fee is the upfront cost required to process your patent application.
  • Search fee is the cost that covers the patent office’s efforts to search existing patents for any prior art.
  • Examination fee is paid for the patent office to examine your application against patentability criteria.

Fees can increase depending on the size and complexity of the application—for instance, if you have excessive claims or a large number of pages. 

Review and Examination by the USPTO

The journey of your patent application through the USPTO is detailed and involves several stages. Once you’ve submitted your application, it enters the review and examination phase, where a patent examiner evaluates its merit.

First Office Action

After your patent application is filed, it goes to an assigned patent examiner who conducts a thorough review. This culminates in issuing a First Office Action, a document detailing the examiner’s initial findings. The First Office Action commonly includes rejections or objections based on various criteria, like prior art or patentability requirements.

Responding to Office Actions

You’re then allowed to respond to the First Office Action. Your response must address each rejection or objection, often leading to amendments in the claims or arguing the merits of your invention. It’s important to respond thoughtfully, as this can significantly impact the future of your application. The response period is typically six months, as provided by 37 C.F.R. § 1.134.

Final Decisions and RCE

If the examiner is not persuaded by your response, a Final Office Action may be issued. You can accept the decision, file an appeal, or submit a Request for Continued Examination (RCE) at this stage. The RCE allows additional amendments and arguments to gain allowance for your patent.

Throughout these stages, staying informed and proactively participating in the process can help you move towards securing a patent grant.

After the Examination Process

Once your patent application has cleared the examination process, what comes next is critical for securing and maintaining your intellectual property rights. Let’s explore the final grant and what it entails to keep your patent active.

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Patent Issuance

You’ll be granted a patent when the USPTO is satisfied with your application, including the patent claims and other documentation. The total time from filing a nonprovisional patent application to the issuance of a patent can vary, typically ranging from 1.5 to 3 years, and it can take longer in some cases. 

You can expect to receive a patent grant, an official document specifying the details of your invention and the scope of patent protection it holds.

Maintaining Your Patent

Holding a patent is not a one-time affair; you’ll need to maintain it by paying maintenance fees at regular intervals. These fees are vital for keeping your patent active and enforceable. Remember, you may lose patent protection if you miss a fee payment. 

The USPTO sets these fees, which are due at 3.5, 7.5, and 11.5 years after your patent is granted. Be vigilant about these deadlines to secure long-term control over your intellectual property.

Additional Considerations When Applying for a Patent

When pursuing a patent application, you need to be aware of the international implications and the support systems that can aid you through this complex process.

International Patents

If you’re looking to protect your invention beyond the borders of your own country, consider the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT). The PCT streamlines the process of filing patents in multiple countries by allowing you to submit a single international application. 

This can potentially grant you protection for your invention in over 150 countries. It’s imperative to understand that while the PCT does not grant patents, it facilitates the process by providing a unified procedure for filing.

Finding Legal Aid and Support

Navigating the patent process can be daunting, however, you don’t have to do it alone. Look for pro bono programs offering free legal assistance if hiring a patent attorney is not in your budget. 

Engaging with patent attorneys can be particularly helpful, as they specialize in intellectual property law and can provide invaluable advice and support, helping you maximize your chances of a successful patent application. Investing in professional legal support can save you time and effectively protect your invention.

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Related Questions

How Much Does It Cost to Get a Patent Approved?

Drafting and filing a utility patent application usually falls between $8,000 and $15,000. This cost variance primarily depends on the complexity of your invention, with simpler mechanical inventions at the lower end. In contrast, inventions in the area of medical devices or software may be more costly.

How Do You Know Your Patent Has Been Approved?

To know whether your patent has been approved, you can check the USPTO online system called Patent Center. Upon approval, this will reflect in the system as an “issued” patent with an associated patent number. The USPTO will send you an official Patent Grant notice. This document confirms that your patent has been legally approved and issued.

What Causes a Patent to be Disqualified?

When filing for a patent, certain criteria determine your invention’s eligibility. Novelty is a core element—your invention must be new. It must also have utility and be nonobvious. If your invention or idea lacks any of these important traits, it can be disqualified. 

Conclusion

Navigating the patent application process can be intricate, however, understanding the timeline and steps involved helps set realistic expectations. To remain informed and proactive throughout this process, consider professional guidance to streamline your application. This can save you time and provide peace of mind, knowing that experienced hands are steering your application through the necessary channels.

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