Practical Advice About Patents
Another way to proceed, and clearly the most advisable, is for the patent attorney to initiate a search for the invention immediately at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. This type of search normally takes only 8-10 weeks and gives a good indication whether the particular invention can be protected by a patent and whether it infringes any existing U.S. patents. Ideally, this step should be taken before any money is invested in either building a prototype or finalizing any molds.
If the search shows that the invention may be patentable, clients usually prefer to file a provisional patent application. Since the provisional application is kept confidential by the Patent Office, competitors cannot ascertain that it is only a provisional application, not a regular one. After the application is filed, the "patent pending" designation comes into play, and the time is right to promote the product.
The client can then wait for some initial feedback from the marketplace before deciding whether it's worthwhile to file a regular application. Any regular application usually has to be filed within 12 months after the provisional was submitted.