The journey to a granted patent starts with a problem. You search for a satisfactory solution, but can’t find any. Others may have tried to solve the problem, yet each solution has its shortcomings. There might be existing patches to alleviate symptoms, but no one has come up with a cure. The patent process usually starts with a problem and deficiencies in existing solutions.
Chances are, you are not the only one who has ever considered this particular problem. As you create a new solution, the your focus should turn on what sets your concept apart from existing products. How is your invention different? What makes your idea better than anything that currently exists?
Patent search: Get a sense of what already exists
Inventions build upon preexisting technologies in nearly all cases. Almost every invention is an improvement of something that already exists. All of this preexisting stuff, whether in the marketplace or merely on paper, is known as “prior art.” So there will be prior art related to your concept. The important questions to consider are: How much prior art? and How similar are the prior art references to your invention?
You may choose to do a patentability search. If not, you should still get a rough idea of what’s already out there. Try searching Google patents. If you find prior art that is dead on or very similar, you’ve saved yourself the hassle of a years-long process with the USPTO. You might even find inspiration to improve your idea further so that it might become patentable.
Write it down
The challenge is to transfer the concept from your mind onto a document. There are various invention disclosure forms that can help you flesh out the details of your invention. Ultimately, you will want to provide a detailed written description of the invention along with any visuals such as drawings, photos, diagrams, etc.
Prioritize core features
It’s one thing to get your thoughts on paper. It’s quite another to think through your list of features, and prioritize those that are most important. When it comes to patent claims, remember that less is more. Your concept may have several unique features, but the goal is to distinguish the primary unique attributes from secondary features. One way to determine a primary feature is to ask – What do you care most about blocking others from copying? If you can live without a particular design or functional element, then that is most likely a secondary feature.
This distinction between highly important characteristics and less important qualities will provide a helpful roadmap in drafting patent claims which will be required for a utility nonprovisional application. Different combinations of very important characteristics will likely end up in independent claims while secondary features might be recited in dependent claims.
How long does it take to write a patent application?
To draft a utility nonprovisional application, your patent attorney will want to review your invention disclosures, including any outlines or notes of your prioritization of features. At our firm, we generally aim to send a draft of a nonprovisional application within 2 weeks of receiving full invention disclosures and any required retainers.
It is common for the initial draft to contain comments, blank spaces and questions for the inventors to address.
How to review a draft utility patent application
Reading a draft utility patent application can seem intimidating. Some parts of the patent application will be more important than others. Here are helpful tips on what to look for and how to provide comments. It may help to get on a call with your patent attorney to go over any questions and correct any errors or deficiencies in the draft. At our firm, we aim to send revised drafts within 2-4 business days of receiving inventor comments. Certain revisions, such as changes or additions to the drawings, take more time due to the involvement of vendors
Patent process begins: Filing patent application
Once your utility nonprovisional application has been filed, expect to wait over a year before hearing from the patent examiner. This waiting part of the patent process may be shortened by filing certain requests for quicker prosecution.
Patent process continues: inevitable patent rejections
There is roughly a 90% chance that your utility patent application will be rejected. The rejection from the patent examiner will come in the form of a letter called an Office Action which will be emailed to your patent attorney. Our firm provides flat rate estimates for responding to patent Office Actions.
After responding to the first non-final Office Action, it is not uncommon to receive a second rejection called a Final Office Action. Roughly half of utility patent applications receive a Final Office Action subsequent to a reply to the non-final Office Action. It may help to talk to the examiner before filing a written response to the final rejection.
Patent process ends: allowance and patent grant
If the examiner is persuaded by your claim amendments and arguments, a Notice of Allowance will be issued which will provide a deadline for paying the issue fee. This is a good time to start thinking about filing any continuations to capture competitors’ attempts to design around your allowed claims. You can think of paying the issue fee as the end of the patent process, but it might also become the beginning of a new process for a continuing application that will add to your patent portfolio.
Patent renewals: paying maintenance fees
Technically speaking, patents are not “renewed,” but maintained. Expect to pay a maximum of three maintenance fees spread out over the term of the utility patent.