There seems to be a lot of confusion around the differences between the provisional patent application and the real patent application. Most of the perplexity is generated by individuals who have no experience in patenting but are willing to offer advice when questioned on the subject. Let me give you the brief definition of each and how they are interrelated.
The provisional application for patent (PAP), also referred to as PPA, is a way of bringing an invention to the attention of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The inventor or author of the invention, using a few standard forms, can secure a date of conception for their invention via the PAP. This date of conception is very important and should not be underestimated. This is the date that defines when the invention was first conceived. An individual who can prove that they first dreamed of the creation will be awarded ownership.
The PAP was created for the sole purpose of saving an inventor’s money. The PAP is approximately 10 times less expensive than a full blown RPA, not considering the fees due an attorney, if one is used. Patenting is costly and very time consuming. Most applications are not ever fully pursued to completion by the inventor and the USPTO knows this. Sadly, the time required to see a patent from its first stages of infancy all the way through maturity is more than most people are willing to endure.
Once the PPA is received by the USPTO, the USPTO will acknowledge receipt and file it away. Even though the invention referred to in the application now bears the coveted “patent pending” verbiage, nothing more is done. Once the application is filed, the inventor has exactly one year to complete an RPA or lose the right to do so.
The RPA is very similar to the PPA. The only differences are that the RPA contains a few more pieces of information, and it is more costly. When the USPTO acknowledges receipt of this type of application, a patent examiner is assigned to the file and the waiting begins. In perfect conditions, the patent application process can take as long as six years to complete! The completion could be an awarded or denied patent.
The part that is most confusing is the PPA can be converted to an RPA by filling a specific form. Bear in mind that the PPA would have had to include all the information required by an RPA. This allows the inventor to keep the date of conception the same as that of the provisional application. Otherwise, the date of conception will be considered the date that the USPTO acknowledges receipt of the RPA.
In conclusion, the two differences between the PAP and the RPA are cost and the assignment of the patent application to an examiner. The inventor’s perception of their invention will determine which type of application works for their situation. Confusion cleared up.