If you wish to patent an idea in the United States, you must file an application through the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO.gov) which is the US government department that issues patents and trademarks. By securing a patent against your idea it gives you the ability to take legal action against anyone who attempts to take advantage of your idea. This is because you are legally identified as the ‘owner’ of that idea. But patents don’t remain in force forever lasting between 14 and 20 years depending on the type of patent issued.
Check if your idea has already been patented – You can do this on the USPTO website which provides a variety of search options. There is no guarantee that even if your idea has been patented you will necessarily find it through a search but it is a great starting point and will potentially save you lots of otherwise wasted money and effort.
Decide on the type of patent – There are three major categories identified by USPTO which are Plant Patent (Patenting of different type of new plants), Design Patents (related to specific designs) and the Utility Patent (relating to processes including those used in manufacture) which is the most common.
Decide on Coverage – Do you need United States only patent protection or international protection. You can apply for international protection through the Patent Corporation Treaty (PCT) which seeks to offer additional protection by means of an agreement between the US Government and the European Patent Office.
Utility Patents Type – Specifically for Utility Patents you can go for the full non-provisional patent requiring the more rigorous application process. Alternatively, you can apply for a Provisional Patent which lasts only 12 months and cannot be extended but is a much simpler and cheaper process to work through. ‘Patent Pending’ can be assigned to the idea and once this more limited protection is in place you can still go ahead and file for the full non-provisional patent as well.
Prepare all the paperwork and evidence – Whether you do this yourself or hire a professional is a matter of choice but USPTO recommends hiring a professional to do this for you.
Online Application – Apply online through the EFS (Electronic Filing System) once you have registered and you can manage your application and track progress through the EFS portal. Details of this service are on the USPTO website.
Fees – These include a filing and examination fee which is charged whether your patent is ultimately granted or not. Once approved you will need to pay an issue fee and maintenance fees every three to four years. There are a number of additional fees that may be levied for example if your application paperwork is over 100 pages. All these fees can quickly add up to be in the thousands of dollars. The fee schedule can be found on the USPTO website.