Once the invention has reached its final form, everything else should be a piece of cake, right? But unfortunately, many inventors find their invention bogged down by the patent application process. Since time is always a factor for entrepreneurially-minded inventors, you need to know how long it really takes to get a patent.
It's important to know that there is no uniform waiting period on patent applications. Each application is reviewed on its own merits and by different groups of patent specialists, each with its own backlog of applications. But in most cases, the patent process can be estimated by the average waiting period involved with each stage.
Stage 1: Pre-Application Tasks (1-3 months)
When an inventor has a finalized invention ready for patenting, the first step is to contact a qualified patent attorney or agent for assistance. After the completion of an engagement letter, the patent professional completes a patent search which can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a few months. If the patent search reveals that the invention is ripe for patenting, the patent professional takes several weeks to prepare the application, which is then filed with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office.
Stage 2: Application Review (12+ months)
The U.S. Patent office's initial review of the patent application typically takes longer than any other stage of the process. Although the inventor is anxious for a decision by the patent office, the patent review process takes time. Additionally, the waiting period is largely determined by the backlog of applications experienced by the group of reviewers assigned to review the application. Some specialties are currently experiencing a backlog up to three years, the average waiting period for the initial application review is approximately one year.
Stage 3: Response to First Action (2 weeks – 3 months)
The first action the patent office usually takes on a patent application is a non-final rejection. No matter how much preparation you have put into the application, the patent office almost always requests more information or addendums to the initial application. Although the patent office allows the inventor up to three months to respond to the first action, most inventors reply in a couple of weeks in order to keep the process moving.
Stage 4: Notice of Allowance (3-6 months)
Assuming the patent office responds positively to your response, the next thing you can expect to receive from them is a notice of allowance. A notice of allowance is essentially a notification that your patent is going to be approved, subject to payment of the issue fee. If they respond negatively to your response, you will be issued a final rejection – which can be appealed through a process that increases the waiting period by several months or more.
Stage 5: Patent Issue (3 months)
The end of the waiting process happens when the patent office finally issues a patent for your invention. In most cases, patents are issued within three months of the notification of allowance. If you don't hear from the patent office within four or five months of receiving a notification of allowance, contact them directly to determine the nature of the delay.