How to Apply for a Patent for Your Invention

How to Patent an Idea - US Patent
How to Patent an Idea - US Patent. Getty Images/Don Farrall

Inventors who have created a new product or process can apply for a patent by filling out a patent application, paying a fee, and submitting it to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Patents are meant to protect creations that solve a specific technological problem — be it a product or process — by assuring that no one else can produce and sell a product or process similar to the one patented.

Because the patent application is a legal document, inventors hoping to complete the forms need to have a certain level of expertise and preciseness when filling out the proper paperwork — the better written the patent, the better the protection the patent will produce.

The patent application itself has no fill-in forms available on the most complex parts of the paperwork, and instead, you will be asked to submit drawings of your invention and fill out a series of technical specs that make it different and unique from all other inventions that have already been patented.

Undertaking a non-provisional utility patent application without a patent attorney or agent is very difficult and not recommended for beginners to patent law. Although only the inventor may apply for a patent, with certain exceptions, and two or more persons making an invention jointly must apply for a patent as joint inventors, all inventors must be listed on the patent applications.

Getting Started With Filing Your Patent

It is highly recommended that you draft a first copy of the patent application and do a preliminary search for prior art yourself before bringing the paperwork to the patent agent you hire for a final proof. If you must self-patent for financial reasons please read a book such as, "Patent It Yourself" and understand the risks of self-patenting.

Another alternative — which comes with its own set of drawbacks — is to file a provisional patent application, which provides one year of protection, allows patent pending status, and does not require writing claims.

However, before one year expires you must file a non-provisional patent application for your invention, and during this year, you can promote and sell your product and hopefully raise the money for a non-provisional patent. Many successful experts advocate provisional patents and other alternatives as a better path to follow.

Essentials of Non-Provisional Utility Patent Applications

All non-provisional utility patent applications must include a written document which comprises a specification (description and claims) and an Oath or Declaration; a drawing in those cases in which a drawing is necessary; and the filing fee at the time of application, which is the fee when the patent is issued, as well as an Application Data Sheet.

The descriptions and claims are very important to a patent application as they are what the patent examiner will look at to determine if your invention is novel, useful, nonobvious, and correctly reduced to practice as it relates to whether or not the invention is patentable in the first place.

It takes up to three years for a patent application to be granted, and because applications are often rejected the first time, you may need to amend the claims and appeal. Make sure that you meet all drawing standards and follow all patent laws that apply to design patent applications in order to avoid further delay.

It will be a lot easier for you to understand how to apply for a design patent if you look over a few issued design patents first — check out Design Patent D436,119 as an example before proceeding, which includes the front page and three pages of drawing sheets.

Optional Preamble and Mandatory Single Claim

A preamble (if included) should state the name of the inventor, the title of the design, and a brief description of the nature and intended use of the invention that the design is connected to, and all the information contained in the preamble will be printed on the patent if it is granted.

  • Using an Optional Preamble: "I, John Doe, have invented a new design for a jewelry cabinet, as set forth in the following specification. The claimed jewelry cabinet is used to store jewelry and could sit on a bureau."

You may choose not to write a detailed preamble in your design patent application; however, you must write one claim like Design Patent D436,119 uses. You will submit all bibliographic information such as the inventor's name by using an application data sheet or ADS.

  • Using a Single Claim: "The ornamental design for eyeglasses, as shown and described."

All design patent application may only include a single claim that defines the design which the applicant wishes to patent, and the claim must be written in formal terms, where "as shown" relates to drawing standards included in the application while "as described" means that the application includes special descriptions of the design, a proper showing of modified forms of the design, or other descriptive matter.

Design Patent Title and Additional Details

The title of the design must identify the invention that the design is connected to by its most common name used by the public, but marketing designations (like "Coca-Cola" instead of "soda") are improper as titles and should not be used.

A title descriptive of the actual article is recommended. A good title helps the person that is examining your patent know where to or not to search for prior art and helps with the proper classification of the design patent if it is granted; it also helps the understanding of the nature and use of your invention that will embody the design.

Examples of good titles include "jewelry cabinet," "concealed jewelry cabinet," or "panel for a jewelry accessory cabinet," each of which gives specifications to items already known colloquially, which could increase your chances of getting your patent approved.

Any cross-references to related patent applications should be stated (unless already included in the application data sheet), and you should also include a statement regarding any federally sponsored research or development if any.

Figure and Special Descriptions (Optional)

The figure descriptions of the drawings included with the application tell what each view represents, and should be noted as "FIG. 1, FIG. 2, FIG. 3, etc." These items are meant to instruct the agent reviewing your application to what is being presented in each drawing, which can be demonstrated as such:

  • FIG.1 is a perspective view of eyeglasses showing my new design;
  • FIG.2 is a front elevational view thereof;
  • FIG.3 is a rear elevational view thereof;
  • FIG.4 is a side elevational view, the opposite side being a mirror image thereof;
  • FIG.5 is a top view thereof; and,
  • FIG.6 is a bottom view thereof.

Any description of the design in the specification, other than a brief description of the drawing, is generally not necessary since, as a general rule, the drawing is the design's best description. However, while not required, a special description is not prohibited.

In addition to the figure descriptions, there are many types of special descriptions that are permissible in the specification, which include: A description of the appearance of portions of the claimed design which are not illustrated in the drawing disclosure; a description disclaiming portions of the article not shown, that form no part of the claimed design; a statement indicating that any broken line illustration of environmental structure in the drawing is not part of the design sought to be patented; and a description denoting the nature and environmental use of the claimed design, if not included in the preamble.