Woman wearing a green sweater, looking at a patent certificate.
Starting a business

What you need to know before filing for a patent

It’s taken you years to invent the world’s next necessity; maybe you’ve created a unique product design, a game-changing technology feature, or even spliced together a never-before-seen plant genome. Either way, you’re ready to market your innovation and reap the benefits. But before you cash in on your work, you must first file a patent application. 

What is a patent?

A patent is a legal document that grants intellectual property rights to inventors. Issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), these documents don’t guarantee inventors the right to sell their inventions; patenting an idea simply prevents others from manufacturing or selling the same product. 

What are the four types of patents?

The four types of patents are utility, design, plant, and provisional.

There are four types of patents: utility, design, plant, and provisional. Fees vary depending on the type and size of the patent, and it’s imperative to choose the right type since each of them provides specific coverages for different types of products, ideas, or services. 

Utility patents

Utility patents protect inventions and discoveries of new processes, machines, manufacturing innovations, and material compositions. These can also be applied to improvements on old products or techniques.

  • Duration: 20 years 
  • Example: Articles of manufacture 

Design patents

Design patents protect any new, original, and ornamental design for manufactured goods. In other words, this patent protects the actual nonfunctional design of something that has an existing practical use.

  • Duration: 14 years if filed before May 13, 2015, or 15 years if filed after May 13, 2015
  • Example: Ornamental designs on automobiles

Plant patents

Plant patents can be granted to those who have invented or discovered and asexually reproduced a distinct and new variety of plant, other than a tuber propagated plant or a plant found in an uncultivated state. This patent protects the owner’s right to exclude others from asexually reproducing the plant, and from using or selling the plant or any of its parts throughout the United States.

  • Duration: 20 years 
  • Example: A new and distinct cultivar of African violet 

Provisional patents

Provisional patents differ from those listed above. They’re filed before your invention is completed and offer partial protection from potential competitors—full protection is only granted once you’ve gathered and filed everything you need for a full patent. 

Fees are generally lower for provisional patents and they give the applicant a year to complete and file a full patent.

  • Duration: 1 year
  • Example: Assets labeled “patent pending” have a provisional patent

How to apply for a patent

Tips for filing a patent include filing online, keeping thorough documentation, and being prepared to spend money.

Filing a patent application can be a lengthy and expensive process. To secure a patent, you must pay basic fees, search fees, examination fees, and issue fees, on top of completing all required paperwork. Keep reading to dive deeper into what’s needed for your patent application to be filed. 


Long before you even start thinking about filing a patent application, you must keep extensive details of your ideas and processes so you can accurately document them in future paperwork. Here are some tips to keep in mind before you begin to file your patent application:

  • Keep detailed documentation. Detailed figures and notes can help prove originality in the event of an infringement lawsuit
  • Include dates for every step or advancement to prove the timeline of your work.
  • Use permanent ink and avoid hasty revisions like scribbling, Wite-Outs, and erasures.
  • Have a witness sign and date pages of your notebook at least once every few weeks to help prove the invention is yours.

Taking these steps now will make the filing process easier for you and may help eliminate any potential lawsuit issues in the future. 


Completing the required forms and documents for a patent can be an overwhelming process. If you’re hesitant or unable to talk to a patent lawyer, a patent template can be useful.

Specific application checklists for utility, plant, design, and provisional patents can be found on the USPTO website.

  • New patent applications sent through USPS can be directed to:

Commissioner for Patents

P.O. Box 1450, Alexandria, VA, 22313

  • Those sent through other delivery services can be directed to:

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

Randolph Building

401 Dulany Street, Alexandria, VA, 22314

Other specific documents must be sent to specific mail stops; a list and descriptions of these mail stops can be found on the USPTO website.

Those applying online can submit applications through the USPTO’s electronic filing system.


The cost of filing, acquiring, and maintaining a patent varies greatly. An in-depth chart on patent fees is available on the USPTO fees pagebut below are some basic numbers you should know:

  • Basic filing fees run anywhere from $80 for a micro-entity to $320 for normal entities.
  • Large application fees apply to applications that exceed 100 sheets and can incur up to a $420 fee for each additional 50 sheets.
  • Translation fees range from $35 to $140 if your documents need translating.
  • Maintenance fees range from $500 to several thousand dollars and are due at 3.5 years, 7.5 years, and 11.5 years after the patent is approved. 

Filing a patent claim can be expensive, but be sure to remember this one money-saving tip: File online. “Nonelectronic filing fees” are assessed to applications sent by mail. Depending on your application, these fees can reach up to $400, so be sure to save yourself time and money by applying online.


Reasons for patent denial include having a non-patentable idea and including more than one invention on your application.

Patent approval can take up to three years, so it’s good to be fully prepared with a completed application to avoid lengthy processing delays. Some key timelines to note include receiving an official filing receipt after a few months and receiving notice of approval or denial within a year. 

If not approved, the office action will indicate at least one reason for its rejection. Common reasons for rejection include:

  • Non-patentable: According to the Manual of Patent Examining Procedure, the USPTO may find that “the laws of nature, physical phenomena, and abstract ideas have been held not patentable.” If you’ve received this denial, your invention or discovery falls under one of these three contingencies. 
  • Restriction: This indicates that your application contains more than one invention. If this happens, you will need to choose which invention you wish to proceed with, and the others will need to be filed separately.
  • Obviousness: Obviousness can be tricky to understand as it’s more subjective than the other reasons listed here. Generally, it’s the concept that if an invention is obvious to the general public or experts, it cannot be patented. 
  • Prior art: This can mean someone has already filed for a patent for your invention or that the invention was published in a journal or other reference. 

Depending on the reason for rejection, you have anywhere from one to three months to respond. A second and final office action will then be sent. If your application is still rejected following this second office action, your only recourse is to file an appeal with the Patent Trial and Appeal Board.

If your application is approved, a notice of allowance will be issued. This means your invention is patented upon reception of the issue fee, which must be paid within three months of the issue.

QuickBooks has the tools you need to help your business thrive.

What are the benefits of a patent?

Although filing for a patent can seem like a daunting and long process, it does come with several benefits. Some benefits of a patent include:

  • Stops competitors from copying, manufacturing, selling, or importing your invention without your express permission
  • Prevents the action of reverse engineering your product
  • Helps secure investor financing
  • Provides the ability to license your patent for others to use, should you decide to sell it
  • Limits competition, depending on the invention 
  • Allows you to charge a higher premium for your product due to the restricted competition 
  • Increases your business’s market share

Keeping these benefits in mind when filling out the applications and paying the fees can help guide you to the big-picture future.

Patents: The necessity for all new inventions

A patent is the best legal protection you can provide yourself and your invention to ensure no one else gets credit for your hard work down the line. If you have a great idea, don’t hesitate to apply for a patent with the USPTO to ensure that your invention stays yours.

Patent FAQ

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