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Patent Applications Overview

When an inventor is interested in protecting their invention through the use of a patent, they are required to file a patent application to the patent office of their jurisdiction.  The application includes a description of the technology and related information to support the patent.  Each application receives an “Actual Filing Date” which identifies the date that the specific application was filed.  This date is then used to dictate the timing of the patent’s protection of the invention.

Applications are then reviewed by patent examiners at the given patent office.  These examiners are trained in both the general area of technology and the restrictions for receiving a patent.  Their goal is to determine whether or not the technology is in fact novel and non-obvious.  If the application is approved, the patent is granted with protection starting at the original filing date of the application, in most cases.  There are several types of patent applications, which can be structured much like a family tree.

Provisional Applications

A Provisional Application (PA) is a preliminary application that allows the inventor an early filing option to protect their invention before the final application is complete.  As implied by the term “provisional,” this type of patent application allows one to later submit detailed specifications and claims in final form at a later date.  This provides the inventor with an efficient manner of protection, as well as the extra time necessary to develop the supporting details.

The US and many other countries utilize a “first-to-file” system, meaning that the first application filed regarding a given technology receives priority over any subsequent applications.   By doing so, they receive an early Filing Date, which can be used to provide them greater protection later in the patent lifecycle.  Also, even though the USPTO assigns a filing date to a PA, only the later-filed non-provisional patent application (NPA) based on the PA is examined by the USPTO.

Non-Provisional and Other Applications

The Provisional Application acts as a placeholder for the invention.  This means that the inventor is still required to submit a Non-Provisional Application (NPA) in order for the patent to be examined and potentially granted.  The NPA must be filed within 1 year of the PA.  The preceding PA dictates that the NPA utilizes the effective filing date of the PA.

Once the NPA has been filed, it is possible for subsequent applications filed by the inventor to also claim priority to the NPA.  These patent applications may be divisional, continuation-in-part (CIP), or continuation applications filed after the original NPA.  These continuing applications are sometimes called children patent applications (division, CIP, etc.) of the parent (original) non-provisional patent application. As in the case of the NPA claiming priority to an earlier-filed PAs, these continuing applications (division, CIP, etc.) may claim priority to the earlier filing date of the parent NPA, which itself claims priority to the earlier filing date of the PA.

This means that all of the continuing applications (division, CIP, continuation) will have an effective filing date that is the same as the filing date of the provisional application. As an example, consider that a provisional application has an actual filing date of March 24, 2001.  Thus, the children applications (division, CIP, continuation) of the non-provisional application will all have an effective filing date of March 24, 2001 (technically, only non-provisional applications give rise to children applications, but it may be easier to think of the provisional application as the grandfather application of the children patent applications).  In claiming the filing date of the earliest-filed patent application, it is presumed that the patent claims in the later-filed applications find support in the earliest-filed provisional application.