Should you file a provision patent application first?

Provisional patent applications are often used to establish an earlier priority date until the inventor is ready and able to invest in a non-provisional (utility) application. Provisional patents are valid for twelve months. The 12-month expiration of the provisional patent application becomes a key decision point: abandon the application, or continue by filing a utility application?

Dennis Crouch uncovered an interesting statistic in his December 20, 2011 posting on his blog, Patently O. Crouch reported that USPTO data reveals that from 41%-48% of provisional patent applications were abandoned without being relied upon as priority documents. This suggests two things. First, inventors are seeking patent protection early in the development process. This is good news.  They are preserving their rights for 12 months while they further develop the invention, commercialize and explore the market. In this way, inventors are exploiting the benefits of the provisional patent option.

However, it also suggests that inventors may be underestimating the resources necessary for patent protection. They may be wasting money on provisional patent applications without a realistic plan to see the patent through to a full utility patent. In this case, money may be better spent on commercialization efforts than on short-term patent protection.

It is important to identify the goal of your provisional patent and to do a cost-benefit analysis as to how a provisional patent application will advance your business plan. This requires an understanding of the costs to develop, manufacture and market your product, plus the costs of patent application filing (provisional and utility), taking into account any secondary filing costs (for responses to possible Office Actions) and any foreign filings you may want to undertake when the application enters the national phase.