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  • Writer's pictureAlexander Flake

8 Patent Terms Every Startup Founder Must Know

As a startup founder, you're probably well aware of how patents can impact your growth strategy: not only do they protect your inventions, but they're also critical for raising venture capital.

That said, patent law can be complicated to navigate. Luckily, we're here to help—here are eight patent terms you'll likely come across as you scale your startup.

A highlight of patent terms

1. Public Disclosure

Patents can only be granted for novel technologies—in other words, you cannot patent a technology already known to the public. For this reason, it’s important to carefully consider and track the dates of any “public disclosures” of inventions you might patent in the future.

Examples of public disclosures include:

  • A product launch

  • Any printed or digital publication that describes the technology in detail

  • Any sale of the technology to a customer

  • Public use of the technology, such as a demonstration at a conference or trade show

Note that conversations with investors, partners, or customers who’ve signed NDAs do not count as public disclosures.

2. One-Year Grace Period

If you’ve publicly disclosed an invention you haven’t patented yet, don’t panic. The U.S. provides a one-year grace period where inventors retain the right to file for a patent application after public disclosure.

However, not all countries are so lenient. You may lose patent rights outside the U.S. if you do not file a patent application before public disclosure.

3. Specification

A patent application has two parts: a specification and claims. In the specification, your patent agent will typically lay out the following:

  • Why your invention is important

  • A detailed description of the invention, including drawings, variations, and examples

  • How the invention works

  • Data supporting the invention

Once you’ve filed your patent application, you cannot materially change the specification—if you fail to include an essential detail of your invention, you won’t be able to add it down the line.

4. Claims

Claims define your invention in the context of examination and infringement. This means that no matter how many crucial details you include in the specification, your claims should cover all the important aspects of your invention for your patent to have its desired effect.

5. Provisional Patent Application

A provisional patent application (or “provisional” for short) is a document that does not require claims, making it cheaper and easier to prepare. The catch? Unless you convert your provisional into a non-provisional application that matures into a patent, it expires in a year.

Yet, provisionals are one of the best assets startups can have. Because the filing date of your provisional carries over to the non-provisional it is converted into, you can think of them as a low-cost way to “hold your invention’s place in line” as you secure additional funding, conduct more R&D, and refine your product.

6. Non-Provisional Patent Application

The non-provisional patent application (also known as a “non-provisional”) is the culmination of the patent drafting process. It should include all the contextual and supporting material required to convince the USPTO that your invention is patentable.

Typically, non-provisionals are examined within one to two years of filing; however, this timeline can be sped up by either paying an additional fee or applying for the USPTO’s new Climate Change Mitigation Pilot Program.

7. Office Action

After filing your non-provisional, expect the USPTO to send you an office action, which comes in two main varieties: rejections and notices of allowance.

A rejection may sound like a dire patent term, but it’s extremely common, and sometimes desirable, to receive at least one rejection. Once your patent agent makes the appropriate amendments to your patent application, they’ll argue the case to the USPTO either orally or in writing. If they successfully overcome the rejection, the USPTO will issue a notice of allowance, which means your patent will be granted once you pay a fee.

8. PCT Application

A Patent Cooperation Treaty (or “PCT”) application lets you obtain international patent protection more easily and affordably. Rather than prosecuting the same patent in multiple countries simultaneously, filing a single PCT application lets you select all the signatory countries where you’d like the patent to be enforced.

Use These Patent Terms To Level Up Your Startup

For startup founders, navigating these patent terms and processes can feel impossible—and frustrations only mount when you realize the exorbitant prices that law firms charge for patent strategy, drafting, and prosecution. Luckily, there’s no reason to break the bank just to protect your IP.

By offering affordable and high-quality patent support, the Climate Patent Collective helps climate tech startups focus on solving the big problems. Whether you’re looking for patent consulting or full-service portfolio management, we use our expertise to bring your ambitious ideas to market.

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