A Patent application is a set of documents an inventor files with the patent office in hope of obtaining patents. There are “provisional patent application” and “non-patent application”. It would be slightly less accurate but also slightly clearer, to refer to a provisional patent application as an “informal” patent application and non-provisional patent application as an “formal”patent application. Filing a provisional patent application is relatively inexpensive mechanism for an applicant to document invention with their patent office thereby “calling dibs” on their invention as of the date the provisional application is filed. The applicant has one year to decide whether or not to move forward pursue patent protection for their ideas. If they decide to move forward, they do nothing after one year after filing , the provisional application expires and is never heard again. If they do want to move forward they can file a non-provisional application that is done right, can “claim priority”, back to filing date of provisional application.

The Difference

Legally, a provisional patent application is like an option. Ideally, a provisional patent application would act as a priority filing, that a follow up non-provisional application would claim priority to. A provisional patent application allows you up to one year to file a non-provisional patent application. A provisional patent application will not be examined by the U.S.Patent Office. No patent rights would be granted directly from a provisional patent application. So if you file a provisional patent application you will need to file an non-provisional patent application within one year of filing of provisional patent application. The whole year does not need to be used. It  is better to file the non-provisional patent application earlier. This is especially true if the content of the provisional patent application is not fully developed. Another follow up question tend to be why would i even file a provisional patent application? One business reason would be to defer in some of the cost. Prior to AIA, it was a common practice to file a very basic disclosure document as a provisional application. After AIA, when U.S. moved to first to file system it is questionable whether a provisional application that is not fully developed will provide support for the claims of non-provisional application.

So the balance between the two, in an effort to be cost effective patent attorney is to offer a provisional application that has developed drawing. The downside of filing a provisional first, then following up with the non-provisional is that nothing will happen at patent office based on provisional filing. Another reason to file a provisional patent application first would be if final commercial product is not fully developed. This can happen if you have a reasonable working model on paper, but making further modification when making an actual physical embodiement .Also, in technology such as an app on a smart phone, the final implementation may be in a near constant state of flux. In such a scenario, the additional details would be included in the non-provisional filing.


A Provisional patent application can be a valuable tool if you want to patent it yourself, mainly because provisional patent application :

  1. do not require a specific format
  2. do not require the complex”claims” section
  3. are not examined by U.S.Patent office

However, a non-patent application :

  1. Has a specific format compromised of ” non-provisional application part” required by patent office
  2. requires the complex claim section
  3. are examined by U.S.Patent Office

In addition In addition, a patent attorney is typically required to prepare a solid non-provisional patent application and to avoid potentially costly mistakes.