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By J.D. Houvener
Patent Attorney and Founder

The early stages of a startup can be fraught with challenges, especially when it comes to protecting your innovative ideas. This is where provisional patents come into play, offering a practical and cost-effective solution. Understanding how to leverage these patents effectively can be a game-changer, safeguarding your intellectual property and giving your startup the head start it needs in a competitive market.

What Are Provisional Patents?

Provisional patents serve as a preliminary step in securing intellectual property rights for your inventions. They provide a temporary, one-year protection, allowing you to claim “patent pending” status for your idea. This type of patent is less formal and requires fewer details than a non-provisional patent, making it both accessible and affordable for startups. Importantly, it establishes an early filing date, which is crucial in the patent world where the first to file often holds the advantage. However, it’s essential to note that provisional patents never mature into full patents on their own. They require a subsequent filing of a non-provisional patent application within a year to maintain the initial filing date and continue protection.

The Strategic Importance of Provisional Patents for Startups

For startups, provisional patents are a strategic tool in the high-stakes world of innovation. They provide an early shield for your ideas, allowing you to safely develop and market your product without fear of losing proprietary rights. By securing a filing date, startups gain time to refine their invention, seek funding, and explore market potential, all while holding competitors at bay. This early claim to the invention can be pivotal when attracting investors, who often view the protection of intellectual property as a sign of a company’s seriousness and potential for success. Moreover, provisional patents offer these advantages at a lower cost and with fewer initial requirements, making them an ideal choice for startups operating with limited resources.

How to File for a Provisional Patent: A Step-by-Step Guide

  • Research and Documentation: Begin by thoroughly researching existing patents to ensure your invention is unique. Compile detailed descriptions, drawings, and any relevant data about your invention, highlighting its novelty and functionality.
  • Prepare the Application: Draft your provisional patent application, focusing on clarity and comprehensiveness. Include a cover sheet, a description of the invention, drawings (if applicable), and a declaration stating your inventorship.
  • Filing with the USPTO: Submit your application to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), either online through the Electronic Filing System or via mail. Pay the required filing fee, which varies depending on the size of your entity (e.g., individual inventor, small business).
  • Keep Records and Monitor Dates: After filing, track and record the filing date. You have one year to file a non-provisional patent application to benefit from the provisional application’s filing date. 
  • Seek Professional Assistance: Consider consulting a patent attorney or agent for guidance. They can help ensure your application is robust, increasing the likelihood of successful patent protection.

Navigating the Transition from Provisional to Non-Provisional Patents

Transitioning from a provisional to a non-provisional patent is an important step that requires strategic planning and timely action. Within one year of filing a provisional patent, you must file a non-provisional patent application to benefit from the earlier filing date. This application is more detailed, including claims that define the scope of protection sought, detailed descriptions, and formal drawings. It’s essential to align the non-provisional patent closely with the provisional to maintain continuity. This process not only solidifies your intellectual property rights but also signals to investors and competitors that your innovation is serious and protected. Engaging a patent attorney during this phase can be invaluable, ensuring a smooth transition and adherence to technical and legal requirements.

Examples of Startups and Provisional Patents

The following examples demonstrate how provisional patents can be a valuable asset for startups, providing them with the necessary breathing room to develop their products, attract investment, and navigate the early stages of business growth.

  • Fitbit: Before becoming a leader in wearable technology, Fitbit used provisional patents to secure their initial concepts for fitness tracking devices. This strategy allowed them to develop their technology and establish their market presence without immediate concerns about copycat products.
  • Square: The mobile payment company Square utilized provisional patents early on for their innovative mobile credit card reader. This provided them with the necessary time to refine their product and business model, while also exploring strategic partnerships and funding opportunities.
  • Oculus VR: Before being acquired by Facebook, Oculus VR filed provisional patents for their virtual reality technology. This early protection was crucial in securing their intellectual property while they developed and fine-tuned their groundbreaking VR headset.

Get Help with Your Provisional Patent Application

If you’re looking to navigate the provisional patent process effectively, Bold Patents is ready to assist. Our team, well-versed in intellectual property law, is dedicated to helping startups like yours safeguard their innovative ideas and excel in the competitive market. Reach out to us today with a free discovery call to discover how we can aid in protecting your intellectual property and advancing your business ambitions.

About the Author
J.D. Houvener is a Registered USPTO Patent Attorney who has a strong interest in helping entrepreneurs and businesses thrive. J.D. leverages his technical background in engineering and experience in the aerospace industry to provide businesses with a unique perspective on their patent needs. He works with clients who are serious about investing in their intellectual assets and provides counsel on how to capitalize their patents in the market. If you have any questions regarding this article or patents in general, consider contacting J.D. at