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Guide to Intellectual Property: What is the Patent Process?

Intellectual Property

The prospect of acquiring a patent for something you’ve created is an exciting one. However, for many inventors, the process might also seem confusing, and maybe even intimidating. If you’re unsure of what steps you should take to protect your work, read on for a simple overview of the patent process.

  • Determine what type of intellectual property (IP) protection you’ll need.
    As we’ve covered earlier in our National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) “Guide to Intellectual Property” blog series, there are several different types of IP protection, including patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. So it’s important to understand what type(s) of IP apply to your invention before moving forward.

  • Evaluate whether your invention in patentable.
    An invention must be novel, non-obvious and useful in order to be eligible to receive patent protection. A patent search is an essential step in determining patentability, and you can get started using the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) website at

  • Establish what type of patent applies to your invention.
    Depending on the nature of your work, you may need a utility patent, a design patent, a plant patent or a combination of these. You’ll need an understanding of these patent types before beginning an application for any of them.

  • Prepare to apply.
    Now is the time to develop an application strategy, consider your costs and decide whether you want to use professional legal services. If you’re seeking a utility or plant patent, you should determine if you want to file a provisional or nonprovisional application. A provisional application is an inexpensive way to establish a U.S. filing date for your invention, which can then be claimed in your nonprovisional application.

  • Complete and submit your initial application.
    Once you’re ready to apply for a patent, rely on the patent application guides provided by the USPTO. Before you sign your application, make sure that you read the written specification and claims. Note that you will not be able to add anything new to your application once it has been filed with the USPTO.

  • Work with a patent examiner.
    Your examiner will review your application and determine if it meets all requirements. Keep in mind that if you have chosen legal representation, once your application is filed by a patent attorney or agent, the USPTO will only communicate with your attorney or agent.

  • Receive an approval.
    If your patent examiner finds that your application meets its requirements, you will receive a notice of allowance, which will list the issue fee and may also include the publication fee that must be paid in order for your patent to be issued.

  • Maintain your patent protection.
    Once you have a patent, you’ll want to make sure it remains in force. To maintain your protection beyond four, eight and 12 years after the issue date for utility patents, remember that maintenance fees are required.

Though the above steps are intended to provide you with a foundational understanding of the patent process, more detailed information can of course be found at

To learn more about IP, we encourage you to read more of NIHF’s “Guide to Intellectual Property” series.

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