What is a provisional patent application (PPA)?

Provisional patent applications (PPAs) were introduced into USPTO practice in 1994. as a means to make it easier for independent inventors and small companies to obtain protection for their ideas, enabling them to market their ideas more securely without large capital expenditures. Please note a PPA is not a patent, and does not guarantee or even result in a patent. A PPA it’s just an application which gives you the priority filing date for the protection of your idea if a patent is granted. It also allows you to use a “patent pending” mark on any presentation or communication related to your idea, or even on a product that may come as a result of it.

Several countries including China, Japan, the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States offer provisional patent applications. In the United States, you can only file a PPA for a utility patent. The PPA is in force for 12 months, after which you can either let it expire or file for a non-provisional applicatrion. The USPTO allows the inventor with a PPA to obtain a priority date, a patent pending designation, and the corresponding filing number. Filing a PPA is much simpler, faster, and less expensive than filing a regular non-provisional patent application. Correspondingly, it offers less protection – up to one year, instead of 20.

Filing the PPA has several advantages over filing a non-provisional patent application:

  • The filing fee is only $65 – if you make less than a $150,000 per year and you have less than 10 approved patents so you qualify as a micro entity.
  • The application is simple enough that you can do it without an attorney (although you can certainly have one help you if you want).
  • A PPA does it require the formal documentation that a regular non-provisional application does. You can submit simple drawings and even photographs of a rough mark up.
  • You have the same legal protection as you would under a regular patent application.
  • It is in force for a period of 12 months, which should be plenty of time to design and refine your idea, find a manufacturer, and test the market.
  • You can include the “patent pending” notice on documents, drawings; sell sheets, and prototypes you present to potential manufactures, vendors, and customers.
  • As long as the patent is pending, no potential competitor can access your application. In fact, the USPTO does not even read your PPA unless you either file a regular non-provisional application or someone disputes your rights to the idea.
  • You can file multiple provisional patent applications as you work out and design within the 12 month period of time, before consolidating them all into a single non-provisional patent application.
  • A PPA establishes the official patent filing date for your idea. Should you choose to file a regular non-provisional patent application at the end of the 12 month period, the filing date of your PPA becomes the filing date of your regular patent. Assuming your regular patent gets issued, you have effectively extended the life of your ownership from 20 years to 21!

Here’s a short and simple checklist what you will need to have prepared for filing a provisional patent application.

  1. Drawings and/or sketches and/or chart of your idea.
  2. Description of your invention.
  3. Provisional application form PTO/SB/16

When your application is ready, it can be easily and quickly filed online at the USPTO website, in which case you will need to use your credit card to make pay the filing fee.

You may also print out your documents, including the filing fee in the form of a certified check or money order made out to the director of the US patent and trademark office. Then you may mail everything to the following address:

Commissioner for patents,
PO Box 1450.
Alexandra, VA. 22313-1450.

Detailed information about preparing and submitting provisional patent applications may be obtained at the USPTO website.

Here are a few pitfalls to watch out for when filing a provisional patent application:

  • If sketches or drawings do not show your idea clearly and if the written description is not detailed and precise enough, it may be hard or impossible to defend ownership of the idea, if it ever comes to litigation with a competitor in court.
  • USPTO regulations state that if a PPA is not converted into a non-provisional application before expiration of the 12 month period, chances of patenting this idea maybe lost altogether.