Virtual Patent Agent Office: Logo

a service of Sherman D. Pernia, Ph.D., J.D.

- Submit a question to the Virtual Patent Agent Office (FREE, see Form at bottom of page).
- Brief questions of general interest, capable of short answer will be deemed appropriate.
- Those question deemed appropriate will be posted on the board along with an answer.

NOTE: The public content of this Bulletin Board is provided free as a public service. It is general information only, and you are advised to: NOT rely on it. This material does not constitute legal advice. The information available at this site is NOT intended to be a substitute for obtaining legal advice from your own counsel. It is recommended that you contact a registered patent practitioner before taking any action that could affect your legal rights to or the patentability of your invention or technology.


Question: I have a real simple invention. Please give me a good idea of how much the entire patent process costs from the very beginning to the point where a patent issues.

Answer: The costs of patenting an invention comes in stages over time. For a simple mechanical invention, the up-front initial cost usually is for a patentability opinion ( typically $1,500) to give the inventor an idea of whether the idea is already patented. If the inventor decides to proceed, the next cost is to prepare and file a utility patent application (about $5,000 to $7,000; plus a fee to the Patent Office). Then a year or more after the application is filed, the Patent Office will examine and execute an office action on the merits of application, saying why you cannot get a patent on it. A response arguing why the examiner is wrong must be prepared and filed (cost of about $2,000 to $3,000), or the application will go abandoned. The office action process typically occurs two more time at subsequent 6 to 9 months intervals. Therefore, the total time and cost of getting a patent issued on a simple mechanical invention may be estimated as: $9,000 to $12,000 and 18 to 24 months. However, an inventor usually should start commercializing or marketing his/her invention as soon at the beginning of the process as the application is filed, under the protection of having a "patent pending."

Question: If I file a disclosure document, can I later file a provisional patent application to extend my protection, and time before filing for a regular patent?

Answer: NO, because generally you have no "protection" to extend. A disclosure document filed with the Patent Office may be relied on only as evidence of a date of conception - it is not a reduction to practice, therefore, it does not give any "patent protection" to the idea. If patent protection is desired, a patent application should be diligently filed. What this means is that you have no "protection" for your invention to begin with, until you file a patent application (regular or provisional) seeking such protection.Therefore, if you file a disclosure document on your invention, but fail to diligently file a patent application, you are at risk of losing your inventorship rights to someone else who invents after you and files an application on the invention before you do. An inventor caught in this situation likely will have difficulty asserting rights to the invention, and should seek the assistance of a registered patent agent or attorney if patent protection for the idea is desired.

Question: If a utility invention can be made in more than one way, do you have to file a separate patent application on each possible way?

Answer: NO, a single invention can have more than one embodiment. In fact, every claim in a patent is a separate invention, or way that the invention may be embodied.

Question: How can I view a provisional patent form?

Answer: You can view a cover sheet for a U.S. provisional patent application at:
U.S. Patent Office fee for a provisional application filing presently is $110.00 for a small entity and $220.00 for a large entity. At a minimum, the specification of a provisional application must meet the 35 UCS 112 enablement requirements. A valid provisional application must be incorporated into a regular U.S. patent application within a year to preserve its filing date.

Question: Can both a patent and a copyright be obtained for a new software program?

Answer: Generally, inventors and authors should try to get as much protection of their work as possible. For a software program, copyright protection is certainly available.
Historically, patent protection has been available for "software" only in a somewhat limited context. For example, if the software was an element of a machine or process that itself was patentable, the software could be includable in the patent. However, patenting software has recently become much easier.
Even if the software is patentable, another consideration regarding whether to apply for a patent is the amount of time it may take before a patent would issue - two or more years. This can effect the timing of plans to market the technology, and may need to be considered. In some circumstances,trade secret may be the better way to protect software.

Question: When will a patent issued 31 August 1982 expire? Can the term be extended?

Answer: Generally, the term of a utility patent issued before 8 June 1995 is seventeen years after its date of issue; after 8 June 1995, the term of an issued patent is 20 years from its filling date. Therefore, a utility patent issued 31 August 1982 would expire 31 August 1999. The term of a patent cannot be extended except in unusual circumstances, such as substantial delay caused by another governmental agency (e.g.: FDA). However, if a patent's maintenance fees have not been timely paid, the patent may be held as abandoned by the Patent Office before the expiration of its usual term.
Therefore, if a someone is interested in exploiting a patent, the status of which is unclear, it would be wise to verify the status of the patent in advance, by making an inquiry of the Patent Office. Any competent Patent Practitioner should be able to help with this task if assistance is necessary.

Question: As a requirement of my employment, I disclosed an invention to my employer. My employer is not using the idea, and has not filed a patent application on the invention. Can I file a patent application on the invention myself?

Answer: YES, is the general answer. However, this is a difficult and complex question. The correct answer may vary from case to case and will depend on the specific facts involved: time since any public disclosure or use of the invention, whether the employer wants to keep the invention a trade secret, and more.
The Virtual Patent Agent Office suggests in this type of situation that you contact a patent agent or patent attorney to protect rights that you may have to the technology, and to avoid violating rights that the employer may have to the technology.

Question: Is it possible to file a patent application on my invention in a foreign country using the same application that I am filing in the U.S.?

Answer: YES. By means of a "PCT" application, it is possible to initiate the filing of a patent application in a number of foreign countries using the same specification as your U.S. application. . . if your patent practitioner has formatted the U.S. specification to comply with PCT rules. However, the PCT requires different administrative pages from a U.S. application.
The Virtual Patent Agent Office formats the specification of all patent applications it drafts to comply with both U.S. and PCT requirements, without additional charge.

Question: How long does it take to get a patent?

Answer: Currently, even a simple patent may take 18 or more months before it issues. Medical and drug patents may take 7 or more years to issue. The time it takes to get a patent to issue from an application depends largely on the complexity of the technology and the work load of the Patent Office in that field of technology.

Question: My Mother has a doll with a patent number on it and no other markings. Is there a way on the Internet to relate this number to a company or other entity? Does this cost anything? Is this a "patent search?"

Answers: YES. The US Patent Office has a free, searchable patent database that may be accessed online at which you can search for the patent assigned that serial number. The cover page of the patent will have information on it that may be helpful, such as, who was the original assignee of the invention. The Virtual Patent Agent Office has a link to the Patent Office's search page on its "Information Table" (accessable via a link from the "Reception Area" page).
NO. This type of search is not generally considered to be a patent search. A patent search usually seeks to discover other patents or publications that could be held as prior art against patenting of the invention.

Submit a Question
Please email drpernia @ with your question that you would like to have answered by the Virtual Patent Agent. PLEASE NOTE: Your action of emailing the "Virtual Patent Office" constitutes your acknowledgement that you have read and accepted the DISCLAIMER clause of the Virtual Patent Agent Office.

BACK to Home Page

Copyright, 1997, 2004, 2011 by Sherman D. Pernia, drpernia @ uspatentagent . com
Last update: July 2011.
The Virtual Patent Agent & Virtual Patent Agent Office are service marks of Sherman D. Pernia.