What is a Provisional Patent Application?

What is a United States Provisional Patent Application?

A provisional patent application is not actually a patent application.  Instead, a provisional patent applications is more of a placeholder.  A provisional application was intended to make it easier to get something simple and inexpensive filed to secure the earliest possible filing date.  Why? Because in the world of patents, filing dates are critically important. The earlier the better.  By filing a provisional patent application, you can get an immediate filing date which will give you theoretical priority over everyone who files a provisional or non-provisional patent application after your filing date.  You will then have 12 months to convert your provisional patent application into an actual patent application. So, provisional patent applications are less expensive and easier to prepare and file, and they give you a filing date.  But, beware.  provisional patent applications come with risks.  To use the filing date of your provisional patent application with your non-provisional patent application, when you convert your provisional to a non-provisional patent application within 12 months, you will be limited to the information contained in the specification you filed with your provisional patent application.  You will not be permitted to add new information to your non-provisional patent application.  But, since the standards for filing provisional patent applications are lower than for filing non-provisional patent applications, inventors are often not as careful in preparing the specifications for their provisional applications.  And, since patent claims are not required in a provisional patent application, typically, claims are not drafted until the non-provisional stage.  Which means that the specification (of your provisional application) which will be used for your non-provisional patent application is often drafted without fully understanding the property right you will ultimately define in your claims. When you attempt to convert, you might discover that the specification of your provisional patent application is insufficient to support the claims of your non-provisional patent application claims, which means you will need to add new information, which means you will lose your original filing date. But it can be worse than that.  If you thought you had a valid filing date, you might have publicly disclosed your invention thinking you were safe.  When your filing date disappears, your own public disclosure can then be used to destroy your opportunity to get a patent. 

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