If you are reading this, odds are you have heard about a Provisional Patent Application,and how great they are for inventors, entrepreneurs, and product developers.

What is a Provisional Patent Application?

When we first talk about Provisional Patent Applications (PPAs), we need to be clear about what they are NOT.  The PPA is not a patent, it is only an application. It does not provide any protection in and of itself. The United States Patent Office won’t even read it when you submit it, and you cannot use it to sue someone for patent infringement.

So you are probably thinking, “Ok then… what is a PPA and why are they so wonderful, why have they been called “the Governments gift to inventors and entrepreneurs,” because it doesn’t sound like much.

The best way to describe what a PPA is, and why it is such a gift to inventors, is with an analogy.

Imagine you work for a manufacturing company, and there is a piece of equipment that you would like to purchase because you think it will simplify your processes, increase your profits, and make you rich over time.  As you look into buying this piece of equipment, you find that there is only ONE of these machines available in the United States, and it turns out it is pretty expensive.  So expensive, in fact, that you want to make sure it is going to work like it is supposed to, simplify your process and make you money BEFORE you invest your money and buy it. But you worry that if you wait to buy it while you do your research, someone else will buy it out from under you, and take the ONLY ONE of those machines available in the US home and you will no longer be able to purchase it.  That would probably get you fired, or put you out of business. So you tell the seller you are interested, but want to do a little more research to make sure it will be a good investment, and ask them if they will PUT IT ON HOLD for you.  Amazingly enough, it turns out for a small fee, they will hold the new machine for you, and won’t let anyone else buy it for UP TO ONE YEAR, but not a day longer.  They will also let you (an unfortunately all of your competitors (if they want) use it until it is purchased and delivered to you.  You agree that those are reasonable terms and gladly pay the small fee, and set about figuring out if you are going to invest before your one year expires.

This story illustrates the essence of the provisional patent. The ONLY ONE MACHINE in the United States is your patentable idea.  Purchasing the machine is applying for and getting a Utility Patent on your idea. Applying for a patent can be expensive as fee’s for a utility patent are usually in the $5,000-$16,000+ range.  Delivery of the machine is when your patent issues, unfortunately it may be 2-3 years after you submit your utility application.  This is an important day in the life of an entrepreneur. At this point you actually have intellectual PROPERTY. The issued patent claims are PROTECTABLE and ENFORCEABLE.  You have the legal ability to prohibit the manufacture, import and selling of your claimed invention.

Here at Alpine Engineering and Design, our experts are extremely familiar with patents. We have over 75 patents that have been issued to our engineers, which means that we have also invested a lot into getting those patents. Luckily for us, we have the ability to file a provisional patent in order to make sure that we are going to make money on the invention.

The PPA is the fee that places your idea on hold, the fee that gives you one year to decide if the machine is worth buying, the small fee you gladly pay to decide if you want to pursue a full utility patent on your idea.  PPA’s cost between $65-$250 depending on the size of your company.

How Does the Application Work?

For an inventor, entrepreneur, or product developer a PPA is a great way to place a hold on your idea.  Once filed, you have one year to develop, test, sell, or license your idea before deciding whether or not the investment of a utility patent is worthwhile.  The issued utility patent will have the priority date of the PPA, and since the USA grants patents to the “first to file,” having the earlier priority date is a benefit.

Another more risky option for inventors is to forgo the provisional patent and just start showing their idea to companies or selling it.  There is a one year grace period for inventors, between publicly disclosing an idea and filing for a patent. However, if you disclose your idea without a PPA and someone else submits the patent before you do, you may be out of luck.

Disclaimer:  These are ideas that I have found helpful as I have worked on my own PPA’s.  I am not a patent attorney. This article is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem. Use of and access to this article or any of the links contained within the site do not create a relationship between Alpine Engineering and Design, Inc. and the reader. The opinions expressed at or through this article are the opinions of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of any individual attorney.

About the Author

David Smith is a Mechanical Engineer, Licensed Professional Engineer and an MBA.  He has been working Product Development since 2006. Mr. Smith has developed and patented multiple products and loves helping inventors and entrepreneurs protect their ideas and bring them to market.  Mr. Smith also works as an expert witness on patent and product liability cases.