What is a provisional patent application

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What is a Provisional Patent Application?


A provisional patent application is a legal document filed in certain jurisdictions that allows an inventor to secure a filing date for their invention while delaying the filing of a non-provisional (complete) patent application. This type of application is designed to provide a lower-cost first step in obtaining a patent and to offer inventors up to one year to refine their invention, seek funding, or assess market potential.

Key Features of a Provisional Patent Application

Generally less expensive to prepare and file compared to non-provisional patent applications, primarily because it has fewer formal requirements.
12-Month Grace Period
Provides inventors with a 12-month window to file a corresponding non-provisional application, which benefits from the earlier filing date established by the provisional application.
No Claims Required
Unlike non-provisional applications, provisional applications do not require formal patent claims, simplifying the initial filing process.
Remains confidential and is not published, unless a corresponding non-provisional application is filed and published by the patent office.

Jurisdictions Allowing Provisional Patent Applications

The concept of a provisional patent application is most notably recognized in the United States. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) allows inventors to file a provisional patent application to secure an early filing date. Other countries may have similar mechanisms or provide alternative ways to achieve a priority date for an invention, though they might not use the term "provisional patent application." It's essential to consult the specific patent laws of each jurisdiction to understand the options available for early patent filing and protection strategies.

Benefits of Filing a Provisional Patent Application

Securing an Early Filing Date
Helps to establish an early effective filing date which is crucial in patent law jurisdictions that operate on a first-to-file basis.
Cost Savings
Allows for an initial lower-cost filing that can help in budgeting the overall patent strategy, especially useful for startups and individual inventors.
Market and Funding Opportunities
Provides time to explore the commercial viability of the invention, seek investors, or further develop the invention without losing the priority date.
Patent Pending Status
Once filed, inventors can legally use the term "patent pending" in relation to their invention, which can deter competitors and add value to the invention.

Limitations and Considerations

The 12-month period cannot be extended. Failure to file a corresponding non-provisional application within this period results in abandonment of the provisional application.
Lack of Examination
Provisional applications are not examined on their merits and will not lead directly to a patent. A non-provisional application must be filed to initiate the examination process.
Detailed Disclosure Required
Although less formal than a non-provisional application, a provisional application must sufficiently disclose the invention to support the claimed invention in a later-filed non-provisional application.


A provisional patent application offers a strategic, cost-effective way to secure a filing date while providing additional time to refine the invention or secure funding. Recognized primarily by the USPTO, this application type is an essential tool in the patent filing strategy for inventors and businesses worldwide. When considering a provisional patent application, it is vital to understand its benefits, limitations, and the specific requirements of the jurisdictions where patent protection is sought.

Questions about Provisional Patent Applications

What happens after the 12-month period of a provisional patent application expires?

After the 12-month period expires, the provisional application is automatically abandoned. To maintain patent protection, a non-provisional application claiming priority to the provisional must be filed within this period.

Can a provisional patent application be converted to a non-provisional application?

In jurisdictions like the United States, a provisional application cannot be "converted" but rather serves as a priority basis for a subsequently filed non-provisional application, which must be filed within 12 months.

Are provisional patent applications published?

No, provisional patent applications are not published and remain confidential unless a corresponding non-provisional application is filed and published.

Can you file a provisional patent application in countries outside the United States?

While the concept of a provisional application is specific to certain jurisdictions like the United States, many countries offer similar mechanisms to secure an early filing date. It's essential to check the patent laws of each country where protection is sought.

Is it possible to file multiple provisional applications for the same invention?

Yes, inventors may file multiple provisional applications for the same invention, each potentially adding new matter. However, a corresponding non-provisional application must claim priority to each relevant provisional application within 12 months of their respective filing dates.