Provisional Patent Application (PPA) Definition, Benefits, and Filing

What Is a Provisional Patent Application (PPA)?

A provisional patent application (PPA) is a document issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) that helps protect a new invention from being copied during the 12-month period before a formal patent application is filed.

It is intended to give an inventor time to pitch the idea, test its commercial feasibility, or refine a product before committing to the expensive and time-intensive process of a formal application.

The "patent pending" label on a product indicates that a provisional patent application has been submitted.

Key Takeaways

  • A provisional patent application is the first step towards gaining a U.S. patent on a new idea or invention.
  • The "patent pending" label indicates a product that is protected from copycats by a provisional patent application.
  • A provisional patent application is not an actual patent.
  • A provisional patent application is a cheap and fast way to gain protection on an invention for 12 months and allows the inventor to test and perfect a concept prior to filing a full patent.
  • You only have that 12-month window in which to convert your provisional patent application into a full non-provisional application; failing to do so before the deadline could result in the loss of your idea.

Understanding a Provisional Patent Application (PPA)

The provisional application is a short-term means of protecting an invention or concept and requires less effort and expense than a formal patent application (formally called a non-provisional patent application). In the U.S., both processes go through the USPTO.

The PPA isn't examined by the USPTO, so it does not indicate that the invention is unique enough to actually receive a patent. However, submitting a PPA does save a filing date, which can help in getting the patent through the process down the road.

A PPA is simpler and more concise than a patent application. It frequently takes 10 pages or less to explain the product’s design and the purpose that it serves and to provide one or more illustrations if they are necessary to clarify the concept.

Benefits of a PPA

Getting a PPA is also less expensive than obtaining a full patent, and may not require the services of a patent attorney.

The USPTO has a very long list of fees for the many patent-related services it offers.

However, the requirements for a provisional patent application are straightforward. It is a clear description of a unique new product and how it can be used.

There are several benefits to obtaining a provisional patent. First, the inventor doesn't have to worry about a manufacturer or other interested party stealing an idea, as the “patent pending” label signals some legal rights in the event of an infringement.

Second, it allows the inventor to test and perfect a concept prior to filing a full patent.

Crucially, it also puts an official filing date on the record with the USPTO. Being the first inventor to file a concept can be critical to establishing a patent if competing ideas are being considered.

Limitations of a PPA

While a provisional patent application offers several advantages, it also has some disadvantages.

Length of validity. A provisional patent application only lasts 12 months and essentially acts as a placeholder. Moreover, you only have that 12-month window in which to convert your provisional patent application into a full non-provisional application. Failing to do so before the deadline could result in the loss of your idea. There are no extensions on the one-year time limit.

Limited protection. Since provisional patent applications are often filed in a rush, inventors often leave out important details of the application. This gives them a false sense of security. In reality, a provisional patent application must meet all of the same requirements as a full non-provisional application in order to get full protection. If any detail or component is left out, another person may be able to receive a patent on those features.

Extra costs. While a provisional patent application is relatively inexpensive, you still need to pay for a full non-provisional application within twelve months. That's in addition to the fee you already paid for the PPA, so you end up paying more, in total.

Other limitations include:

  • Provisional applications can't be filed for design inventions
  • Provisional applications are not examined on their merits
  • Provisional applications can't claim the benefit of a previously filed application

Requirements of a PPA

A provisional patent application must name all of the inventor(s). The USPTO also advises that the filing include any drawings necessary to understand the invention.

A provisional patent application must also include the filing fee and cover sheet identifying the following:

  • Inventor residence(s)
  • Invention title
  • Name and registration number of attorney and docket number (if applicable)
  • Correspondence address
  • Any U.S. government agency that has a property interest in the application

Utility patents are the most common type of patent. More than 90% of patents issued by the U.S. government are utility patents.


Special Considerations

A provisional patent application is not a provisional patent.

That is, it does not indicate that an idea or invention has been approved or even reviewed for a patent. The application and its protection expire after 12 months, whether or not its inventor files a full patent application.

The provisional patent application records an idea and signals an intention to follow up with the details in a formal patent application.

It can effectively forestall another inventor claiming to have had the same idea at an earlier date. It could be considered the first step in acquiring a patent.

What Is the Difference Between a Provisional Patent Application and a Non-Provisional Patent Application?

A non-provisional patent application is the "standard" utility patent application. If you want the USPTO to review your application and ultimately grant your patent, a non-provisional application must be filed.

Meanwhile, a provisional patent application is a quick and inexpensive way to get protection on an invention for 12 months. It doesn't get reviewed by the USPTO and essentially acts like a one-year placeholder. An inventor must still file a corresponding non-provisional application within 12 months in order to fully benefit from a PPA.

How Much Does It Cost to File a Provisional Patent Application?

As of June 2021, provisional patent application filing fees are $75 for a so-called "micro-entity" and $150 for a "small entity."

Can I Sell a Provisional Patent?

Yes, you can sell a provisional patent.

But it's a longshot because selling a provisional patent is essentially just selling an "idea" with no proven demand from the market. Unless your invention is extremely innovative while showing clear market potential, you'll be hard-pressed to get significant money for your provisional patent application (if you can even find a buyer at all).

Article Sources
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  1. USPTO. "Types of Patents."

  2. USPTO. "USPTO Fee Schedule."