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Patent application

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A patent application is a request pending at a patent office for the grant of a patent for the invention described and claimed by that application. An application consists of a description of the invention (the patent specification), together with official forms and correspondence relating to the application. The term patent application is also used to refer to the process of applying for a patent, or to the patent specification itself.


In order to obtain the grant of a patent, a person, either legal or natural, must file an application at a patent office with jurisdiction to grant a patent in the geographic area over which coverage is required. This will often be a national patent office, such as the United Kingdom Patent Office or the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), but could be a regional body, such as the European Patent office. Once the patent specification complies with the laws of the office concerned, a patent may be granted for the invention described and claimed by the specification.


The process of "negotiating" or "arguing" with a patent office for the grant of a patent, and interaction with a patent office with regard to a patent after its grant, is known as patent prosecution. Patent prosecution is distinct from patent litigation which relates to legal proceedings for infringement of a patent after it is granted.


National, regional and international applications


Depending upon the office at which a patent application is filed, that application could either be an application for a patent in a given country, or may be an application for a patent in a range of countries. The former are known as "national (patent) applications", and the latter as "regional (patent) applications".


National applications


National applications are generally filed at a national patent office, such as the United Kingdom Patent Office, to obtain a patent in the country of that office. The application may either be filed directly at that office, or may result from a regional application or from an international application under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), once it enters the national phase.


Regional applications


A regional patent application is one which may have effect in a range of countries. The European Patent Office (EPO) is an example of a Regional patent office. The EPO grants patents which can take effect in some or all countries contracting to the European Patent Convention (EPC), following a single application process.


Filing and prosecuting an application at a regional granting office is advantageous as it allows patents in a number of countries to be obtained without having to prosecute applications in all of those countries. The cost and complexity of obtaining protection is therefore reduced.


International applications (under the Patent Cooperation Treaty)


The Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) is operated by World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and provides a centralised application process, but patents are not granted under the treaty.


The PCT system enables an applicant to file a single patent application in a single language. The application, called an international application, can, at a later date, lead to the grant of a patent in any of the states contracting to the PCT. WIPO, or more precisely the International Bureau of WIPO, performs many of the formalities of a patent application in a centralised manner, therefore avoiding the need to repeat the steps in all countries in which a patent may ultimately be granted. The WIPO coordinates searches performed by any one of the International Searching Authorities (ISA), publishes the international applications and coordinates preliminary examination performed by any one of the International Preliniminary Examination Authorities (IPEA). Steps such as naming inventors and applicants, and filing certified copies of priority documents can also be done centrally, and need not be repeated.


The main advantage of proceeding via the PCT route is that the option of obtaining patents in a wide range of countries is retained, while the cost of a large number of applications is deferred.


Types of applications


Patent offices may define a number of types of applications, each offering different benefits and being useful in different situations. Each office utilises different names for the types of applications, but the general groups are detailed below. Within each group there are specific type of applications, such as utility patents, plant patents, and design patents, each of which can have their own substantive and procedural rules.


Standard application


A standard patent application is a patent application containing all of the necessary parts (e.g. a written description of the invention and claims) that are required for the grant of a patent. A standard patent may or may not result in the grant of a patent depending upon the outcome of an examination by the patent office it is filed in. In the U.S., a standard patent application is referred to as a "non-provisional" application.


Provisional applications


Provisional patent applications can be filed at many patent offices, such as the USPTO1 in the United States of America. A provisional application provides the opportunity to place an application on file to obtain a filing date (thereby securing a priority date), but without the expense and complexity of a standard patent application. The disclosure in a provisional application may, within a limited time (one year in the US), be incorporated into a standard patent application if a patent is to be pursued. Otherwise, the provisional application expires. No enforceable rights can be obtained solely through the filing of a provisional application.


Continuation applications


For more details on this topic, see continuing application.


In certain offices a patent application can be filed as a continuation of a previous application. Such an application is a convenient method of including material from a previous application in a new application when the priority year has expired and further refinement is needed. Various types of continuation application are possible, such as continuation and continuation-in-part.


Divisional applications


For more details on this topic, see continuing application.


A divisional application is one which has been "divided" from an existing application. A divisional application can only contain subject matter in the application from which it is divided (its parent), but retains the filing and priority date of that parent. A divisional application is useful if a unity of invention objection is issued, in which case the second (and third, fourth, etc) inventions can be protected in divisional applications.


Application preparation, filing and prosecution


The process of obtaining the grant of a patent begins with the preparation of a specification describing the invention. That specification is filed at a patent office for examination and ultimately a patent for the invention described in the application is either granted or refused.


Patent specification


A patent specification is a document describing the invention for which a patent is sought and setting out the scope of the protection of the patent. As such, a specification generally contains a section detailing the background and overview of the invention, a description of the invention and embodiments of the invention and claims, which set out the scope of the protection. A specification may include figures to aid the description of the invention, gene sequences and references to biological deposits, or computer code, depending upon the subject matter of the application. Most patent offices also require that the application includes an abstract which provides a summary of the invention to aid searching. A title must also generally be provided for the application.


Each patent office has rules relating to the form of the specification, defining such things as paper size, font, layout, section ordering and headings. Such requirements vary between offices.


A description cannot generally be modified once it is filed (with narrow exceptions), so it is important to have it done correctly the first time.




Main article: Claim (patent)


The claims of a patent specification define the scope of protection of a patent granted with those claims. The claims describe the invention in a specific legal style, setting out the essential features of the invention in a manner to clearly define what will infringe the patent. Claims are often amended during prosecution to narrow or expand their scope.


The claims may contain one or more hierarchical sets of claims, each having one or more main, independent claims setting out the broadest protection, and a number of dependent claims which narrow that protection by defining more specific features of the invention.


Filing date


Main article: Filing date


The filing date of an application is important as it sets a cutoff date after which any public disclosures will not form prior art (but the priority date must also be considered), and also because, in most jurisdictions (notably, not the USA) the right to a patent for an invention lies with the first person to file an application for protection of that invention (See: First to file and first to invent). It is therefore generally beneficial to file an application as soon as possible.


In order to obtain a filing date the documents filed must comply with the regulations of the patent office in which it was filed. A full specification complying with all rules may not be required to obtain a filing date, for example in the United Kingdom, claims and an abstract are not required to obtain a filing date, but can be added later. However, no subject matter can be added to an application after the filing date and so it is vital that an application discloses all material relevant to the application at the time of filing. If the requirements for the award of a filing date are not met, the Patent Office will notify the Applicant of the deficiencies. Depending upon the law of the patent office in question, correction may be possible without moving the filing date, or the application may be awarded a filing date adjusted to the date on which the requirements are completed.


Priority claim


Main article: Priority right


A patent application may make a claim to priority from another previously filed application, in order to take advantage of the filing date of information disclosed in that earlier application. Claiming priority is desirable because the earlier effective filing date reduces the number of prior art disclosures, increasing the likelihood of obtaining a patent.


The priority system is principally useful in filing patent applications in many countries, as the cost of the filings can be delayed by up to a year, without any of the applications made earlier for the same invention counting against later applications.


The rules relating to priority claims are derived from the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property and countries which provide a priority system in conformity with the Paris convention are said to be convention countries. These should not be confused with the rules under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), outlined above.


Security issues


Many national patent offices require that security clearance is given prior to the filing of a patent application in foreign countries. Such clearance is intended to protect national security by preventing the spread and publication of technologies related to (amongst others) warfare or nuclear arms.


The rules vary between patent offices, but in general all applications filed are reviewed and if they contain any relevant material, a secrecy order may be imposed. That order may prevent the publication of the application, and/or the foreign filing of patents relating to the invention.


Should it be desired to file an application in a country other than an inventor's country of residence, it may be necessary to obtain a foreign filing licence from the inventor's national patent office to permit filing abroad. Some offices, such as the USPTO, may grant an automatic license after a specified time (e.g., 6 months), if a secrecy order is not issued in that time.


Anyone working on government contracts involving national security technologies would be well advised to carefully coordinate patent applications with the relevant agencies. Similarly, patent applicants should be aware of the arms export-control laws that may restrict the types of technical information that can be disclosed to any foreign nationals.




Patent applications are generally published 18 months after the earliest priority date of the application. Prior to that publication the application is confidential to the patent office. After publication, depending upon local rules, certain parts of the application file may remain confidential, but it is common for all communications between an Applicant (or his agent) and the patent office to be publicly available.


The publication of a patent application marks the date at which it is publicly available and therefore at which it forms full prior art for other patent applications worldwide.


Patent pending


Main article: Patent pending


Patent pending is a term used to describe an alleged invention that is the subject of a patent application. The term may used to mark products containing the invention to draw competitor's attention to the fact that they may be infringing a patent if the product is copied after the patent is granted. The rules relating to the use of the term to mark products vary between patent offices, as do the benefits of such marking. In general, it is permissible to apply the term patent pending to a product if there is, in fact, a patent pending for any invention implemented in the product.


Patentable subject matter


Main article: Patentable subject matter


Patents are granted for the protection of an invention, but while an invention may occur in any field, patent laws have restrictions on the areas in which patents can be granted. These are known as exclusions from patentability.


In the USA the scope of patentable subject is significantly larger than in, for example, Europe, where there are exclusions for such things as computer software and methods of performing mental acts. The subject of what should be patentable is highly contentious, in particular whether software and business methods should be patentable.


Search and examination


For more details on this topic, see Patent prosecution.


After filing, and when requested, a patent application is researched to reveal prior art which may be relevant to the patentability of the invention. The search report is published, generally with the application 18 months after the priority date with the application, and as such is a public document. The search report is useful to the applicant to determine whether the application should be pursued or if there is prior art that prevents the grant of a useful patent, in which case the application may be abandoned before incurring further expense.


Some jurisdictions, for example the USA, do not conduct a separate search, but rather search and examination are combined. In that case, a separate search report is not issued and it is not until the application is examined that the applicant is informed of prior art that the patent office examiner considers relevant.


Examination is the process of ensuring an application complies with the requirements of the relevant patent laws. Examination is generally an iterative process, in which the patent office writes to the applicant notifying him/her of its objections to which the applicant responds with arguments and/or amendments to overcome the objections. Amendments and arguments may then be accepted or rejected, triggering further response, and so forth, until a patent is issued or the application is abandoned.


Issue or grant


Once the patent application complies with the requirements of the relevant Patent Office, a patent will be granted further official fees, and in some regional patent systems, such as the European patent system, translations of the application into the official languages of the states in which protection is desired must be filed to validate the patent.


The date of issue effectively terminates prosecution of a specific application, after which continuing applications cannot be filed, and establishes the date upon which infringement may be charged. Furthermore, an issue date for a USA application filed prior to 1995 also factors into the term of the patent, whereas the term of later filings is determined solely by the filing date.


Post-Issue or grant


Many jurisdictions require periodic payment of maintenance fees in order to retain the validity of a patent after it is issued and during its term. Failure to timely pay the fees results in loss of the patent's protection.


The validity of an issued patent may also be subject to post-issue challenges of various types, some of which may cause the patent office to re-examine the application.


See also



External links


* Patent Prosecution tools for Patent Attorneys and Agents, hosted by Scott E. Kamholz, Patent Attorney at Foley Hoag LLP. (US related patent prosecution)

* US Patent Office

* WikiPatents - Community Patent Review

* Report of EU discussion on relaxing strict novelty, viewed January 14, 2005.

* MIT Electrical Engineering and Computer Science "Inventions and Patents", Fall 2003, viewed November 22, 2005.

* Rines, Robert. "America’s Different Patent System: The Reason The U.S. Outperforms The World, A Report To The 107th Congress." May 9, 2002, viewed November 22, 2005.

* Guide to whether to pursue a patent

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