The patent process varies depending on what kind of application you file, and so do the fees. For example, if you are an individual or “small entity” under the USPTO rules, and you want to avoid a surcharge (currently $200), your application must be filed online.
The nuances of how/what/where to file are explained in detail on the USPTO website, but basically, the process goes like this:
- You (with the help of your registered patent attorney, if you have one) decide what part or parts of your idea you want to seek patent protection for. (Remember: Separate patents require separate applications, so you might be multiplying the rest of the steps by however many patents you’re applying for.)
- The application is drafted (by you or your attorney).
- The application is signed—physically or electronically, depending on how it is filed.
- You pay the filing fee, plus any additional fees for things such as expedited processing or filing by mail.
- You wait—sometimes up to two years or more for a utility application—for a letter from the Patent Office, called an “office action,” telling you (more often than not) that your patent cannot be issued for the reasons stated in the letter.
- You and your attorney decide whether to:
- Fix the issues the patent examiner has a problem with.
- Provide the examiner with more information to prove that you don’t need to fix anything.
- Do both of the above, depending on the issues the examiner has with your application.
- Do a major revision of the patent application and resubmit.
- Abandon the application altogether.
- Eventually, if you decided to continue by one of the means mentioned in step 6, you’ll (probably) get a letter informing you that your invention passed muster and a patent will be issued to you shortly after you pay the issuance fee.
Online filing requires that your written application be submitted in .PDF format, and you will upload the drawings as a separate step.