New inventions aren’t always commercially profitable, while a select few prove to be extraordinarily valuable. Protecting the legal rights to an invention is a top priority for any inventor. A patent provides this legal protection and is usually the first step. Filing a patent application is essential before you publicly disclose information about your invention. Here are some other steps in the process you should probably know.

What Is a Patent?

The United States Patent and Trademark Office defines a patent as the exclusive right to make, use, sell, or offer for sale certain types of intellectual property. A patent for an invention is issued for 20 years. This begins with the date the patent application is filed. You must pay periodic maintenance fees to keep your patent in force.

Patent Types

There are three kinds of patents. Utility patents are used for new and useful devices, manufactured articles, and innovative processes. A design patent can be issued for a novel ornamental design. And plant patents are awarded for newly discovered or developed plants that have been asexually reproduced and can be pretty rare.

Preliminary Steps

Applying for a patent is a lengthy process. You should file a provisional patent at the outset of legalizing your invention. The USPTO offers provisional patents as a means of establishing your claim priority while you prepare and file the full application. A provisional patent is usually good for one year.

You must perform a patent search to determine if your invention is new and patentable. There are actually two searches. The first looks at publicly disclosed prior art. It is intended to determine if someone already came up with your idea. The second search examines related patents. It serves to identify the specific elements of your idea that are genuinely original.

The Patent Application

A patent application is much more than a form you fill out. It includes four main sections. The first is a short summary of your invention or innovation. The next part provides a brief description. Next comes a detailed description that includes drawings and complete specifications. The last section is called claims. This is the heart of your application. You must explain how your idea is novel and different from prior art. It needs to be written as broadly as possible in maximize the rights to your idea.

Most patent applications are rejected when first submitted. Don’t panic. The patent examiner will explain what changes are needed. You can file a patent application yourself, however, the USPTO points out that the process is complex and recommends you retain an experienced patent attorney. After getting all documents in order and waiting for processing you can expect some decision to be reached regarding your invention.