How Long Should An Inventor Expect To Be In The Patent Approval Process?
In the United States, inventors seeking to secure a patent for their inventions may be curious about the timeline of such an endeavor.
There are quite a few factors involved in how long each individual must wait before receiving patent approval, but to set an expectation, inventors should be open to waiting a period of up to several years.
I've said it many times - becoming an inventor means investing in your future; that includes money and time. Solidifying a concept as exclusively your own takes time.
A Quick Background
Patent law differs by country. In the United States you are allowed to file for a design, a plant, or a utility patent.
To get started, a designer will need to hire an office or firm to complete a patentability search, which is a process that may take several weeks.
Following this, you will submit an application to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). This second step involves quite a bit of complexity which will be further explained below, after covering basic definitions.
Let's take a moment to recap the different types of patents...
Design patents provide legal protection to any unique, innovative designs with an article of manufacture for a period of up to 14 years.
It covers the elaborate or embellished design of a functional item.
Computer icons, jewelry, furniture, and food containers are all examples of this type of invention.
Objects denoting a similar makeup to a protected design may not be duplicated or used for profit in any manner. Infringement can result even if the object is not an exact copy.
Can a plant be invented?
In 1930, the United States ruled that it could.
An inventor may note distinctive qualities of a plant and reproduce it asexually under patent law...so, realistically, it can either be created or discovered.
Plants that reproduce sexually on their own in nature are barred from U.S. law, however.
Tuber plants, such as potatoes, also cannot be patented either.
Utility patents are issued for the creation of a new, useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter.
It must provide some kind of identifiable benefit, and it must be capable of use.
Business methods, chemical formulas, and biological inventions are all examples of this type of invention. Traditionally, patents of this kind have needed to fulfill a three-fold criteria: operability standards, beneficial utility, and practical utility.
Patent Searches Can Be Time Consuming
In the United States, it matters whether or not you were the first person to secure an idea or concept as your own.
Once you receive a patent, you are able to claim a monopoly over it for 20 years, the start date being the date of your application.
This monopoly may lead to financial reward, which is why most seek out such an official recognition. Before you can entertain such a venture, you will need to complete a patent search.
A patent search used to involve a need for legal assistance and hefty fees, but today, inventors have better accessibility to this thanks to the internet.
At present, you can search the texts or claims of patents for free at the USPTO website, www.uspto.gov.
Your patent search can go all the way back to 1976, and you are able to browse bibliographic information. Google Patents is also a free web search users may prefer to navigate. At this moment, these two are the only free resources available.
In the United States, it matters whether or not you were the first person to secure an idea or concept as your own. (This is known as "First To File")
Class & Subclass In The Patent Process
Individuals hoping to claim an idea or invention as their own may encounter the terms class and subclass and wonder what they mean.
In reality, how an invention is classified in terms of these subcategories will largely determine the approval wait time.
Depending on how an item is classified, it will be put into a specific Art Unit. An Art Unit determines which Technology Center or TC it will be sent to, and some queues have more entries than others, affecting your waiting period.
Below are some examples of different technology centers:
Timeline Of The Patent Process
After confirming one's idea or product has not already been patented, one will go on to draft the application.
Some choose to do this on their own, while others seek out help from outside firms or companies. The complexity of the invention may require extra assistance. Altogether, however, this should take only a week or so.
Once filed, the application will be processed by the USPTO and studied by an Examiner.
The Examiner's first substantive review and evaluation will typically take 21 months, which is the longest stretch. The average time it takes to obtain patents in the United States is currently 32 months or just under 3 years.
The news of such a wait may be disheartening to an innovator, but there is no way of evading the USPTO. The agency is regularly "backed up" with applications, often processing well above more than half a million each year.
Speeding Up The Patent Application Process With Prioritized Examination
Prioritized Examination is the inventor's best realistic option if he or she wants or needs a quicker result.
An application filed under Prioritized Examination will be issued a final disposition within 12 months, a significantly shorter period of wait time. With this privilege, however, comes a cost: Inventors may look at a fee of up to $4,000, depending on the size of the entity.
The USPTO also limits its total applications that are granted the prioritized status to 10,000 per year.
Clearly, pursuing patents is a long and sometimes arduous task that requires artistic minds to be patient. While this may not be exciting news, the prize one secures once one is granted exclusive rights to his or her idea or product is immensely rewarding. Moreover, you will have the security of knowing that this will be ensured for a decade or more. So, the moral of it all is: Be prepared to wait.