Chris Baxter shares how to use IP to unlock startup valuation at the pre-traction stage in the first Part of the series Why Investors Always Ask About IP.
A provisional patent application has a life of 12 months and is designed to provide flexibility to an inventor insofar as the inventor may add undisclosed material to their provisional patent application at any time during its 12 month life. This is not possible with a standard patent application as will be discussed in more detail later. It is important to note that provisional patent applications are not available in all jurisdictions. However, Australia and the USA are two such countries which offer the beneficial option of an inventor filing a provisional application at the start of their patent journey.
In the majority of cases, a provisional application is the best starting point in seeking patent protection and indeed most inventors file a provisional patent application initially.
A provisional patent application provides the flexibility of the inventor being able to add new undisclosed material into the patent application at any time during the 12 month life of the patent application in the form of supplementary provisionals. This option is not available when filing a standard patent application and no new material can be added after filing if a standard patent application is filed.
If you have already disclosed your idea to the public prior to filing a patent application you may choose to file a complete patent application rather than a provisional patent application to take advantage of grace period countries. Grace period countries allow the inventor to file a patent application after a public disclosure as long as the inventor files a complete patent application within 12 months of that public disclosure. It is important to realise that you must file a complete patent application not a provisional patent application within 12 months of any public disclosure to take advantage of the grace period provisions for patents.
Provisional applications also provide the added benefit of the inventor being able to request a novelty and inventiveness search known as an International Type Search (ITS), which may be requested up to ten months after filing the provisional patent application. The ITS provides invaluable information as to the likelihood that your patent application is likely to get granted at formal examination.
There are a few things that you need to check before filing your provisional patent application.
Firstly, has the inventor disclosed the inventive idea to the public and if so was it more than 12 months ago? If the inventor has made a public disclosure of the invention more than 12 months ago, then unfortunately the inventors opportunity to obtain patent protection has closed. If the inventor has disclosed their invention to the public and it was less than 12 months ago, there may still be an opportunity to obtain patent protection in grace period countries. In this case, it may be more appropriate to file a standard patent application.
Secondly, does the inventor have sufficient information about the invention or is it merely a concept? Whether the patent application is a provisional or a standard application the legislation states that the patent application needs to disclose sufficient information so that a “person skilled in the art” can perform the invention. This standard requires that someone working in the field of the invention could reproduce the invention without undue experimentation by reading the patent application and referring to their common general knowledge. If this disclosure requirement has not been satisfied, the patent application may be rejected on those grounds, so it is important to ensure sufficient detail is provided in the patent application.
If you have not yet disclosed the invention to the public and the inventor has sufficient information relating to the invention to meet the disclosure requirements the inventor is in a position to file a provisional patent application.
Once the provisional patent application has been filed, the next optional step would be to file a request for the patent office to perform a novelty and inventiveness search (ITS) on the provisional patent application. In this case, a fee is paid and a patent examiner with the Australian Patent Office performs a prior-art search and determines what if any of the claims are considered to be novel and involve an inventive step. This is typically performed around 2-3 months after the request for the ITS and can be requested soon after filing the provisional patent application.
Based on the results of the ITS, the patentee may make amendments to the claims to avoid any prior art that may have been raised in the ITS, providing a solid strategy in obtaining patent protection.
Filing a US or Australian provisional patent application is normally the first stage in the patent application process in order to obtain patents around the world. An Australian provisional patent application is lodged by an Australian patent attorney at IP Australia and represents a cost-effective way to lay an international claim to your idea.
The date on which a provisional patent application is received by IP Australia is known as its “priority date”. If, at a later point in time, you are granted a patent, you will be able to sue anyone who has infringed the patent after the priority date.
Once a provisional patent application has been filed by your patent attorney, you are free to disclose your new idea to interested parties, although we would recommend initially that you make such disclosures in confidence. Your new idea, whether product or software can then also be marked “patent pending”. By using a confidentiality agreement together with reference to your pending patent in meetings with third parties, the importance of confidentiality can be reinforced – if this is an aspect of your commercial strategy.
There are a few notable misconceptions around the preparation of provisional patent applications and these include:
Such misconceptions sometimes lead to inadequate provisional patent applications being filed, especially when not prepared by an Australian patent attorney.
Patent attorneys at Baxter IP are particularly cogent of the fact that the scope and detail of disclosure in your provisional patent application is often closely linked to the final effectiveness of your national patent applications filed in Stage 4. These national patent applications are often granted some 5 years after your provisional patent application is first filed. To explain the link between the two, we first need to understand in more detail how a provisional patent application works.
A provisional patent application is an invention specification lodged with IP Australia that, when set out properly by a patent attorney, includes both:
The way claims define the scope of a new idea or invention is by defining: (1) a broad notion of the new idea in what are called independent claims and by then defining (2) subsidiary, more detailed definitions of your new idea in what are known as dependent claims. Patent claims work like onion rings with the broadest independent claim(s) defining your optimal claim(s) to patent coverage (the outer layer) and the dependent claims defining contingency positions (the inner layers) that are used to circumvent prior art material (any information about the same idea that was publicly available at or before the priority date) during patent application examination processes.
In this way, a well-drafted provisional patent application prepared by an Australian patent attorney should establish a robust international filing date for your new idea.
A provisional patent application establishes an international filing date for any new idea or invention properly articulated in your patent specification. Stage 4 National Patent Applications that claim priority to this international filing date, in certain situations, are fully reliant on this priority claim to be valid. One such situation is where the new idea was publicly disclosed or other prior art become publicly available in the first 12 months post filing of the provisional patent application.
The problem is that this priority claim to the International filing date will only be upheld, where the full legal breadth of the claims were supported by adequately described embodiments of your new idea and this support was included in the patent specification of your provisional patent application.
A thorough provisional patent application supports the priority claim to your earliest international filing date and hence, in some situations, can make the difference between a valid or an invalid patent.
If an inadequate range of embodiments are provided in your patent specification, a patent office or court may interpret your claims more narrowly. Since embodiments are normally written into the Stage 4 National Patent Applications as a result of the detailed work originally performed on the provisional patent application and in any case, cannot be added post filing of your Stage 3 PCT International Patent Application, it is very important that your provisional patent application is a detailed disclosure of your invention.
Where claims are interpreted more narrowly, the ability of your granted patent to capture an infringement (i.e. its legal effectiveness) is limited. Therefore, our patent attorneys always recommend you file a detailed provisional patent application from the outset with enough embodiments to support the full breadth of your claims.
A thorough provisional patent application can enhance your monopoly coverage and your ability to stop patent infringement.
A provisional patent application filing is the first point at which the new idea is articulated in a scope-defined, legal manner in the claims. Whilst claims are normally reviewed and amended prior to filing your Stage 3 PCT International Patent Application or your Stage 4 National Patent Applications, the foundational wording of the claims is normally developed during the drafting of your provisional patent application. Further, since we know that claims define contingency positions during examination processes, the filing of a detailed provisional patent application with a well-articulated claim structure from the outset (i.e. a finely graded set of “onion rings”) helps achieve a successful result during examination of your patent application by creating better “fall-back” positions.
A thorough provisional patent application can help you achieve a successful result during patent examination.
A thorough approach to patent drafting requires strategic insights, here are some of ours:
Since, a thorough provisional patent application enhances:
It is therefore highly beneficial to prepare and file a thorough provisional patent application that has:
There is a fairly proportional link between:
Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts in preparing a thorough provisional patent application. When assessing the costs of different patent attorney firms, you should understand that the main cost of drafting and filing a provisional patent application lies in the professional time involved. So far as provisional patent applications are concerned: “you get what you pay for”. Given that the hourly rates of most patent attorneys (of similar experience) are relatively consistent, you might question why some are cheaper than others.
Typically, quotations offered by different firms are for provisional patent applications that vary in terms of:
All of these 5 factors can affect the end outcome in terms of:
It is therefore important to strike the right balance between budgetary requirements and the effectiveness of your intellectual property rights.
Baxter IP ensures that all of its provisional patent applications are drafted to high standards, meeting and surpassing appropriate legal requirements for patenting around the world.
Our capped-fee or fixed-fee quote for drafting and filing a provisional patent application will depend on the number of hours taken to draft the specification so we will normally set out a series of cost options for you to consider. Drafting and lodging a provisional application in respect of one invention generally ranges upwards from $4,000 depending on the nature and complexity of the invention.