How to File for a Patent. A patent gives you the exclusive right to make, use or sell a product, device or process for a set period of time. Today utility patents (the most common kind) are good for at least 17 years.
Determine whether your idea warrants patent protection. The Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) has an online patent database at www.uspto.gov.
Compose a written patent application consisting of a number of subparts required by the PTO, which typically include a detailed description of the invention's structure and operation; a listing of the attributes that set the invention apart from previous related inventions (known as the 'prior art'); a precise description of what aspects of the invention deserve the patent (the patent claims); and a signed oath or declaration.
Create a drawing of the invention that shows all the invention's parts or aspects. You can either submit formal drawings with your application or submit simple sketches until your patent is approved, at which point you'll be required to submit detailed drawings of your invention before the patent will issue.
Determine your filing fee by checking the fee schedule at the PTO Web site. For utility patents, the filing fee is $380 for independent inventors and companies with fewer than 500 employees and $760 for large companies. (Expect additional fees of more than $3,000 for getting the patent issued and maintaining it in force until its expiration date.)
File the application, drawings or sketches, and fee with the assistant commissioner for patents at the PTO.
Communicate with the patent examiner regarding the scope of your invention and its qualifications for a patent. Typically, this takes more than a year. Some self-help resources, such as www.nolo.com, provide detailed information for every step of this complicated process.
If a patent is issued, pay the issue fee of $605 for small entities and $1,210 for large entities.
To get the earliest possible date for your invention, you may also file a Provisional Patent Application (PPA) for $75. A PPA must contain a detailed description of the invention but need not include most of what must go into a regular patent application. If you do file a PPA, you must file a regular patent application on the same invention within one year in order to preserve the PPA's filing date.
To preserve your right to obtain a patent on your invention, you must file a regular or provisional patent application within one year of the date your invention is offered for sale in the United States, publicly used in the United States or described in a printed publication anywhere in the world (which almost certainly includes descriptions in electronic formats). This information is not a substitute for professional legal counsel. Refer to legal references and consult an attorney for up-to-date, comprehensive guidance.