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Patents for Startups - DIY in 30 minutes

Filing patents requires money and time, both of which are in short supply in case you are putting together a startup. A typical U.S. patent can set you back by atleast 4K-5K USD. This post details how you can quickly and cheaply file what is called a provisional patent. In India this could cost as less as Rs 25K (around 500USD).

The single most reason you should consider going for a provisional patent is to defend your innovations from being quickly replicated in the marketplace by the big players. Having a provisional patent covering your innovation before you go public, will establish a date of inception of the innovation and will help you in claiming a successfull patent later on, even if your innovation is replicated by others in the market place. The big thing to note here for startups based out of India (and other countries outside of U.S.) is that an inception date for a provisional patent application filed in India holds good even for an actual patent filed at a later date in the U.S.. So you can cheaply file a provisional patent in India and later on when you have the moolah go for an actual patent in the U.S. (or othe countries) and claim the date of inception of your provisional application.

A provisional patent, though not a real patent, can be referred to in a later filed patent application to claim the date of inception of the patent. Additionally, having a provisional patent entitles you to use the 'Patent Pending' tag. This must be done within an year of filing the provisional patent application. Hopefully your startup will have enough funds by that time to hire a patent expert to do the needful.

Filing a provisional patent application can be done very fast as it does not require a prior art search, is pretty cheap and is a very useful tool to defend your business with.

The reference sites for all this material are the US Patent office website, some patent tutorials , section on patents.

Before we start let me clarify that a provisional patent is not a real patent and only serves to set the date of inception of your later filed patent application. Additionally, a provisional patent application is not valid for design patents, and I cannot vouch for its applicability for patents other than utility patents. Additionally the 100$ filing fee for a provisional patent is applicable only for what the patent office describes as a small entity, which is the case for most startups.

Following are the forms that you will need to fill up to file a provisional patent: 1. A cover sheet. 2. The actual patent specification sheet. 3. Fee transmittal Form (and an optional Credit card authorization form in case you are paying by credit card).

First, lets start with the cover sheet. Form PTO/SB/16 (fillable PDF) is the one you use as a cover sheet for the provisional patent. The form is pretty straightforward and identifies the following (from USPTO site):

- the application as a provisional application for patent; - the name(s) of all inventors; - inventor residence(s); - title of the invention; - name and registration number of attorney or agent and docket number (if applicable); - correspondence address; and - any US Government agency that has a property interest in the application.

Second, The actual patent specification sheet - this will contain the actual list of claims that will makeup your patent and will take the maximum amount of time to write. At the time of writing of this post, the patent office does not specify a form for filling this out and there is no electronic filing available. The only specification is that when writing up this part you should use the USPTO paper format (standard A4, black ink, portrait mode, atleast 1 inch margins).

The easiest way to tackle this part is to study an existing patent which is close to the domain which your patent relates to. This can be found by doing a keyword search on the USPTO website here.

Basically a patent is composed of an abstract, which explains at a higher level the method that the patent covers. This is followed by a series of claims which first outline the exact methods and then provide additional clarification for each of the methods proposed.

Finally you need to fill out the Fee Transmittal form and an additional Credit Card authorization form, incase you plan to pay by credit card, both of which are pretty straightforward.

Fill out the above forms and post them to the address mentioned in the forms, which at the time of this writing is: 

Commissioner for Patents P. O. Box 1450

 AlexandriaVA 22313-1450

Thats pretty much it, now you can relax and get back to building your startup, and if things go really well don't forget to gift me a small number of your company shares ;).