What You Need to Know Before Applying for a Patent

What should an inventor do almost immediately upon creating a new invention? They must file a patent application.

A patent, according to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is the grant of a property right to the inventor. Once a patent has been granted to its inventor, the term may last for up to 20 years within the United States. Applying for a patent is not the same as filing a trademark or copyright application.

There are varying conditions that come with applying for and obtaining a patent, which are broken down below:

  1. Determining whether an invention qualifies for a patent
  2. Classifying an invention under one of three types of patents
  3. Filing for a patent application, as well as understanding the differences between provisional and non-provisional applications

Related: Which 3 Types Of Patents Are Recognized by the USPTO?

Can I patent my invention?

This is an easy question to answer. According to the USPTO, any person who “invents or discovers any new or useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition or matter may obtain a patent.” This also applies to inventors for whom their invention is a new and useful improvement.

Let’s say we have an inventor who has not yet invented a new or useful process. This inventor has an idea, but has yet to flesh it out as an invention. They would not qualify for a patent, as their idea is still a concept and has yet to be made.

Three types of patents

Before applying for a patent, an inventor must figure out which type of patent their invention is.

Inventions may be classified under three types of patents:

  1. Utility patents: If you invented a new style of sneakers or search engine, your invention would qualify as a utility patent. This is a patent that has a useful process, machine, article of manufacture, composition of matter, or provides a new or useful improvement. Fashion and software are two industries where inventions may be granted a utility patent.
  2. Design patents: This patent is granted to inventors that have invented a new, ornamental design for an article of manufacture. Original designs on articles like furniture and jewelry qualify for this patent.
  3. Plant patents: This patent is granted to an inventor that has invented, discovered, or asexually reproduced a new and distinct plant.

Related: Incorporate Your Business Through StartupNation

Provisional and non-provisional applications: What’s the difference?

Earlier, we mentioned that inventors may file both provisional and non-provisional applications. What’s the difference between the two formats?

A provisional application is a lower-cost patent filing that allows its applicants to establish a U.S. filing date for their invention. They may claim the invention during this time and file a non-provisional application at a later date. Only utility and plant patents have the option to file as provisional or non-provisional.

What do I need to apply for a patent?

If you decide to file as non-provisional (and most inventors seeking patents choose this option), you’ll need the following for your application, according to the USPTO.

A written document

Each written document must contain a specification which includes details about the description and claims. Specifications need to cover the invention’s title, the invention’s background, its brief summary, a claim, and a detailed description of the invention. There must also be a description of the invention’s drawing (more about this in a moment), and any cross references to related applications and statements of federally sponsored research.

The specifications in a written document must be written in a clear and precise manner. The USPTO recommends keeping invention titles short and specific. Summaries and abstracts should be brief and detailed, with a claim concluding the document’s specifications. This claim essentially “claims” the subject matter that the applicant regards as the invention and defines the patent’s scope of protection.


Drawings may or may not be necessary for non-provisional patent applications, depending on the invention. Drawings may be presented for utility and design patent applications, but are not necessary for plant patents. If the invention is of the nature where a drawing is required to understand how it works, it must be included with the application.

The USPTO outlines a series of specifications related to drawings on its website.

Some of these include but are not limited to the following standards:

  • Color vs. black and white drawings: It is generally required for drawings to be in black and white. Color may be used only on rare occasions to disclose the patent’s subject matter.
  • Views: Each drawing must show as many views of the invention as possible. Some views may include plan, elevation, section, and/or perspective. If all views are included on one sheet, they must be arranged to stand in the same direction.
  • Scale: Inventors may not put “actual size” on their drawing as a scale indicator. The drawing has to be large enough to show the invention without crowding when the image has been reduced in size.
  • Numbers and letters: Only the English alphabet may be used in the drawing for letters. Numerals are also preferred over use of reference characters.

Additionally, all drawings must be made on paper that does not contain holes. All writing and drawing must be well defined, durable and clean.

Oath or declaration

This is a formal statement from the inventor. It states that they believe themselves to be the original inventor of the application’s invention, which is signed by the inventor themselves. Oaths and/or declarations are required for non-provisional applications. However, they are not needed for provisional patent applications.

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Do I need anything else?

What else do you need before filing your application? Remember to include any and all additional fees for filing, search and examination purposes. Check in with the USPTO to see what the current fees are, as they are subject to change in October each year.

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