Steps to Apply for a Patent in the United States

Updated: Jul 10, 2020

If you’ve come up with an idea you think can change the world, the first step-before funding, before market rollout, and before sales-is to obtain a patent for your product. The patent process can be difficult to navigate for a first-time applicant. Listed below are the steps to follow as you prepare to apply for a patent for the first time.

1. Find Out What Legal Protection You Need

Depending on what your product is, a patent might not be applicable-you might need a trademark or copyright instead. If your product is an invention, chemical composition or process, you’ll need either a design patent (lasting 15 years) or a utility patent (lasting 20 years). If your product is a creative endeavor, such as software or literature, you’ll need a copyright, which is valid until 70 years after your death. Finally, if your product is branding, such as a logo or slogan, for an already existing company, you’ll need a trademark. Trademarks are valid for as long as the holding company continues to use them.

2. Make Sure Your Invention Isn’t Taken

Once you’ve verified that you need a patent, the next step is to make sure your invention is original. It’s possible you’ve come up with an idea that seems revolutionary to you, but has already been thought of. Last year, the United States issued their 10,000,000th patent, so there’s a considerable amount of intellectual property already in existence. To check this, you can visit the nearest Patent and Trademark Resource Center, found in most major cities.

3. Gather Everything You Need to Apply

Once you’re sure of your need and ability to get a patent, the next step is to prepare for your application. Fees can easily be in excess of $5,000, so you’ll need to have that capital ready prior to applying. You’ll also need a working model, or the design plans, for your invention. Additionally, the United States Patent and Trademark Office strongly recommends the use of a patent attorney. If this is beyond your financial means, government assistance is available to guide you through the process.

4. Finalize and Submit Your Application

The United States Patent and Trademark Office offers free webinars and other resources to assist you in the final stages of your application. You’ll also be checked by a patent examiner to ensure there are no issues in your application. If there are, you should take action to correct the issue promptly.

5. Accept your Patent-and Keep it

After you submit, don’t hold your breath for a quick response-it can take up to 25 months to receive approval. If you received a utility patent-protecting the way an invention is used, rather than the way it is manufactured-you’ll need to pay regular fees to retain it. Even if it’s a design patent, however, and your expenses are limited to the application itself, you still can’t sit back-your work is cut out for you as you move to the next stages of commercializing your product.

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