Please note, this article is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for qualified legal advice. Be sure to consult a licensed patent attorney if appropriate.
One of the things I love about being a business owner is you never really know what you’re going to have to learn next. Over the years of operating my web development company with my husband, I’ve had to teach myself everything from sales to search engine optimization to Safe Harbor 401(k)s. And yet, it still took me by surprise when I realized that I was going to be in charge of our provisional patent application for our new social media venture.
What the heck is a provisional patent application?
I never knew that provisional patent applications even existed before I started researching methods of intellectual property (IP) protection for our new business concept and some new software we had created. But once I stumbled across them, I was happy to see that I had an affordable, do-it-yourself option that would buy us some much needed time while we waited to see if our new social shopping website had legs.
Basically, a provisional patent application is a placeholder for a non-provisional patent application, enabling you to put “dibs” on an earlier filing date. It’s a less formal and less expensive process, but still offers protection for your idea against competing claims if you follow through with a non-provisional within 12 months. It also allows you to identify your invention with the phrase “Patent pending.”
How can I learn more?
The requirements for a provisional patent application and how it differs from a non-provisional are beyond the scope of this article, but there are a variety of free and low-cost resources for the do-it-yourselfer.
An excellent starting point is the federal government website www.USPTO.gov. Reputable websites include www.IPWatchdog.com and www.PatentlyO.com. I relied heavily on the book “Patent Pro Se,” by John Ferrell, Esq., available for free download at www.CarrFerrell.com (registration required).
What are my next steps?
The most important thing to do after filing your provisional is to mark your calendar with the deadline for the non-provisional patent application. You have exactly 12 months from your provisional filing date to submit your non-provisional application to preserve your priority date. If you miss it by even one day, your provisional expires and you lose your “dibs.”
You’ll also want to work backwards from the deadline date to determine when you should start working on your non-provisional, either with or without benefit of legal counsel, perhaps giving yourself a couple of months lead time, or more depending on the complexity of your invention.
Jennie Wong, Ph.D. is an executive coach, author of “Ask the Mompreneur,” and founder of the social shopping startup CartCentric.com. Email your entrepreneurship questions to TheJennieWong@gmail.com. Guest bloggers welcome.