1) Conception: The patent process starts when a person conceives a solution to a problem. At this point, the invention vests with the person. Documenting the conception process and the process of building an actual model of your invention is important. You may want to review the Importance of Documenting the Invention and Inventor’s Notebook.
2) Filing Patent Application: Once the invention is conceived, a patent application should be filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”). Otherwise, the inventor risks losing patent rights to the invention. For example, if after conceiving an invention, the invention is publicly used, offered for sale or described in a printed publication more than one year prior to the filing of the patent application, then the inventor cannot obtain a patent on the invention in the United States. The invention is said to be “dedicated to the public.” The public can now freely exploit the invention. Foreign countries have more stringent. In many foreign countries, inventors must file a patent application prior to disclosing the invention to the public (e.g., distributing a brochure, display the invention at a trade show, etc.). Typically, foreign countries do not have the one (1) year grace period similar to the United States.
3) Patent Search: Prior to filing an application for patent, the patentee may conduct a patent search for prior art references. The purpose is to discover information that can provide the basis for an opinion as to the patentability of the invention. Prior art references generally include all information related to the invention that predates the date the inventor conceived of the invention. If the search results indicates that the Patent Office is not likely to issue a patent on the invention, then it may not be worthwhile investing additional time and funds into the invention.
4) Examination by Patent Office: Upon filing a non-provisional patent application with the USPTO, the patent application will be reviewed by an examiner on a first come, first served basis. The examiner reviews the application for compliance with the patent laws (e.g., written description, enablement, definiteness, etc.).
During the review process, the patent applicant will communicate with the USPTO with respect to different issues such as denial of patent grant, information relevant to the invention, etc. The patent applicant will have an opportunity to provide the examiner reasons that the invention is patentable. You may want to consider interviewing the examiner assigned to your case at this time.
5) Maintenance Fees: If the application matures into a patent, maintenance fees must be paid on the 3 ½ year, 7 ½ year and 11 ½ year anniversaries of the patent grant. Otherwise, the patent will expire due to failure to pay the required maintenance fee.
I invite you to contact me with your patent questions at (949) 433-0900 or James@OCPatentLawyer.com. Please feel free to forward this article to your friends. As an Orange County Patent Lawyer, I serve Orange County, Irvine, Los Angeles, San Diego and surrounding cities.