The provisional application is typically a utility application that is devoid of the claims section. The provisional is often less costly to craft and file than a full utility application. The purpose of the provisional is for an inventor or assigned corporation to gain an one-year of patent-pending status. Before that year is up, the applicant must upgrade the provisional into a traditional utility patent application. This one year will take on increased importance given the patent reform that is about to become law. Under the new laws, the United States will change from a “first to invent” to a “first to file” system. In light of this, provisional applications will be playing an increased role of importance as filing first becomes of paramount importance to inventors wishing to patent their inventions.
Provisional patent applications provide a priority date for a given invention to which future utility patent applications may claim priority if the utility patent application(s) are filed within one year of the provisional patent application filing date. Because provisional patent applications are less expensive to file than utility patent applications, the one year deadline can be used to enable a business to explore the marketability and profitability of a given invention before committing to the more costly utility patent application process. Alternatively, if a company knows it will pursue a utility patent application on a given invention, the step of filing a provisional patent application may add unnecessary costs and delays.
It is important to speak with a registered patent attorney to discuss which route is best for your particular situation. Provisional patents, as well as full patent applications can also be used to stop the running of any of the statutory bars. The statutory bars are acts that you the inventor may have already done that starts a clock of one year from the date of offering the idea for sale, publishing the idea, using the invention in the USA, or patenting the invention in another country that will block you from getting a patent issued even where otherwise a valid patent would issue. If you believe you could be nearing the one year mark, it is important to speak with a patent attorney immediately to secure your rights.