Filing for a patent will not be the easiest legal task you ever undertake. For most individuals or companies, it becomes necessary to hire a patent lawyer who is familiar with the complexities of researching and filing for a patent in various areas. However, it is also possible to do the required research and submit for a patent on your own. Whether you hire a lawyer or patent professional or undertake the process yourself, you will need to file your patent application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, otherwise known as the PTO. The PTO conducts a thorough review of every application that is submitted, as the stakes for a patent award are often high in that they award the patent holder exclusive rights to the contents of the patent for a specified time period which can vary depending on the type of patent that is awarded. Learn more about how to file for a patent and decide how you want to proceed with this process.
Filing for a patent begins with the research process. During the research process, you or the professional you hire will search out possible duplications of effort that could render your idea invalid for a patent. If an applicant fails to conduct the proper research, the PTO will not refund the costs of the application fee. Research is very important, and the PTO will also conduct its own research process to ensure they are not awarding duplicate patents. The research process is most typically conducted through PTO libraries, called Patent and Trademark Depository Libraries, or PTDLs. These libraries hold the records for all previously issued patents. Only once you are sure that no prior patent exists can you apply for your patent with a reasonable degree of confidence.
There are several ways to conduct research. You can conduct your search using keywords, review summary text of previously granted patents, seek out categories and subcategories that relate to your proposed patent (called "classes" and "subclasses"), and review references from other patents to distill down to the most likely places in the databases where patent conflicts or duplications may be found. This research is where many individuals simply hire a professional, as it can be time-consuming, taxing, and confusing.
Filing for a patent will require you to make two decisions. The first decision is whether to file what is called a provisional application, which gives you one calendar year to conduct your research before the official PTO review process starts. During this time, you are legally permitted to use the phrase "patent pending" in reference to the idea or process to be patented. You can also file a non-provision patent which launches the official PTO review process immediately. From here, you will decide whether to file for a plant patent, a utility patent, or a design patent. It can take up to two years and several hundred dollars just in filing fees to obtain a patent, so it is important to follow the process exactly for best results.