Nonprovisional Patent vs. Provisional Patent

What's the Difference?

A nonprovisional patent and a provisional patent are both types of patents that provide legal protection for an invention. However, there are some key differences between the two. A nonprovisional patent is the standard type of patent application that is examined by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). It requires a detailed description of the invention, claims, and drawings, and must meet all the formal requirements. On the other hand, a provisional patent is a simpler and less formal type of application that establishes an early filing date for an invention. It does not require formal claims or drawings, but it must still provide enough information to enable someone skilled in the field to understand and reproduce the invention. A provisional patent is often used as a placeholder while the inventor further develops the invention or seeks funding, and it must be followed by a nonprovisional patent application within one year to maintain the priority date.


AttributeNonprovisional PatentProvisional Patent
Application TypeRegular patent applicationTemporary patent application
Formal RequirementsMust meet all formal requirementsNo formal requirements
Filing DateEstablishes priority dateEstablishes priority date
ExaminationSubject to examination by patent officeNot examined by patent office
Term20 years from filing date12 months from filing date
ConversionCan be converted into a provisional patentCannot be converted into a nonprovisional patent
ClaimsMust include formal claimsClaims are optional
CostHigher cost due to formal requirements and examinationLower cost due to no formal requirements and examination

Further Detail


When it comes to protecting intellectual property, patents play a crucial role. Patents grant inventors exclusive rights to their inventions, preventing others from making, using, or selling their creations without permission. However, there are different types of patents, each with its own set of attributes and advantages. In this article, we will compare the attributes of nonprovisional patents and provisional patents, shedding light on their differences and helping inventors make informed decisions about which type of patent best suits their needs.

Nonprovisional Patent

A nonprovisional patent, also known as a utility patent, is the most common type of patent granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). It provides inventors with long-term protection for their inventions, typically lasting up to 20 years from the filing date. Nonprovisional patents require a formal application, including a detailed description of the invention, claims, and any necessary drawings or diagrams.

One of the key advantages of a nonprovisional patent is that it offers stronger legal protection compared to a provisional patent. Once granted, a nonprovisional patent provides the inventor with exclusive rights, allowing them to enforce their patent against any potential infringers. This level of protection is crucial for inventors looking to commercialize their inventions or license them to others.

Another important attribute of a nonprovisional patent is that it undergoes a thorough examination process by the USPTO. This examination ensures that the invention meets all the necessary criteria for patentability, including novelty, non-obviousness, and usefulness. The examination process helps establish the validity and enforceability of the patent, providing inventors with a stronger position in case of any legal disputes.

Furthermore, nonprovisional patents offer inventors the opportunity to claim priority based on their filing date. This means that if another inventor files a similar invention after the filing date of a nonprovisional patent application, the earlier filing date gives the inventor priority over the later filer. This priority can be crucial in determining who has the right to the invention, especially in cases where multiple inventors claim similar ideas.

Lastly, nonprovisional patents are subject to maintenance fees, which must be paid periodically to keep the patent in force. These fees ensure that the inventor maintains their exclusive rights and prevent the patent from expiring prematurely. While maintenance fees can be seen as a disadvantage, they also serve as a mechanism to filter out inventors who are not actively using or commercializing their inventions.

Provisional Patent

A provisional patent, on the other hand, is a temporary and less formal type of patent. It provides inventors with a filing date and establishes an early priority date for their invention. Unlike nonprovisional patents, provisional patents do not require a formal application with claims or a detailed description. Instead, inventors can submit a provisional patent application with a written description and any necessary drawings or diagrams.

One of the main advantages of a provisional patent is its simplicity and cost-effectiveness. The filing requirements are less stringent compared to nonprovisional patents, making it easier for inventors to protect their ideas quickly. Provisional patents also have lower filing fees, which can be beneficial for inventors with limited financial resources or those who want to test the market before committing to a full nonprovisional patent application.

Another attribute of a provisional patent is that it provides inventors with the ability to use the term "patent pending." This term can be valuable in deterring potential competitors from copying the invention or filing similar patents. It signals to others that the inventor is serious about protecting their intellectual property and may discourage infringement or unauthorized use.

However, it is important to note that provisional patents do not automatically grant any enforceable rights. They do not undergo a formal examination process by the USPTO, and they do not provide the same level of legal protection as nonprovisional patents. To obtain enforceable rights, inventors must convert their provisional patent into a nonprovisional patent within one year of filing the provisional application.

Additionally, provisional patents have a limited lifespan of one year from the filing date. If inventors fail to convert their provisional patent into a nonprovisional patent within this timeframe, they lose the priority date established by the provisional application. This can be a disadvantage for inventors who require more time to develop their invention or secure funding before proceeding with a nonprovisional patent application.


Nonprovisional patents and provisional patents each have their own unique attributes and advantages. Nonprovisional patents offer stronger legal protection, undergo a thorough examination process, and provide inventors with long-term exclusive rights. On the other hand, provisional patents offer simplicity, cost-effectiveness, and an early priority date, allowing inventors to quickly establish their invention's filing date.

Ultimately, the choice between a nonprovisional patent and a provisional patent depends on the specific needs and circumstances of the inventor. Inventors seeking comprehensive protection and long-term exclusivity may opt for a nonprovisional patent, while those looking for a temporary and cost-effective solution may choose a provisional patent. It is advisable for inventors to consult with a patent attorney or professional to determine the best course of action based on their individual situation.

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