August 11th, 2009

The Provisional Patent

An idea is like a secret. You bubble over with excitement and containing it is a challenge.

Sure, sharing your invention with others is a good way of gauging the feasibility of a product, but it can also be the death of your promising idea. No friend means harm, but you never know who their friends know. Your idea could be in someone else’s hands within minutes. Thankfully, BEFORE sharing my idea of the SmartZip™ Sleeper, a lawyer told me I should seriously consider filing for a provisional patent.

Because my husband will drive 30 miles to save 20 cents on a bottle of ketchup, I was forced to find a bargain. As most people know, patents are pricey. For this reason, a lot of good ideas are never fully realized. A provisional patent costs considerably less and gives you one year from the filing date to protect your idea. No-one can touch your idea (in the US) until that filing date expires. But, at that point you must file a non-provisional (utility) patent to keep your invention safe. A utility patent could run you upwards of $15,000. So a provisional patent is the way to go when you can’t afford the non-provisional patent upfront.

The best part is that you don’t need an attorney to file a provisional patent. Not sure if there are other services like it, but LegalZoom was my saving grace. They are an online service that assists with all sorts of legal applications. Their website lists a menu of services with clear costs and projected savings.

The website suggests ordering a patent search along with or before applying for a provisional patent. They conduct a comprehensive search for a prior patent, any artwork, or written idea that resembles yours. I received a nicely bindered book of their findings. My favorite result was of a baby sleeper that zipped up the backside.

It was designed in 1950, by a man who OBVIOUSLY never changed a diaper.

The second favorite was of a baby sleeper that had an option of attaching the legs together.

It’s function was to keep an infant from climbing out of it’s crib.

Not sure if the inventor was a mom, but I feel bad for the kid who won’t be able to get comfortable while sleeping. Can you imagine?

Besides giving me some comical relief, my search report gave me the confidence to go forward with investing in my idea.

Applying for a provisional patent seemed like a simple questionnaire. They asked questions, and I explained my invention. The site wasn’t clear, but, I was under the impression, this questionnaire would be transformed by THEM into the actual legal document for filing. What a surprise when their first response to my application was more like a bad review of a college term paper. It apparently severly lacked information needed to draft the legal document myself. The biggest obstacle in writing it was learning the legal terms and writing style. But their reviews gave me lots of complimentary footnotes, along with helpful criticism for improvement. They even forwarded similar patents for language comparison.

Because I had a career in architecture, my drafting skills came in handy when drawing the diagram for my product and saved me some money. (I didn’t need to order the design option for the application) They then transformed the sketches into a patent worthy drawing.

I cannot say enough positive things about LegalZoom. They led me through, step by step, with patience and respect. Unfortunately, at the time, LegalZoom only offered the provisional patent application. So, I was forced to consult a patent attorney for my non-provisional (utility) patent at three months prior to it’s expiration. But because my provisional filing was so comprehensive, the lawyer fees for filing the utility patent cost me considerably less.

I will admit, going through an online service was a lot more work than I anticipated. My process took three reviews by LegalZoom and many months of intermittent all-nighters. It is by no means the route for the faint of heart. But the hard work paid off. For just over $1,000, my idea was safe. And once my non-provisional was filed, I had an overall savings of $10,000.

And that’s a secret worth sharing.