Applying for Patents

Applying for patents, step 2 in the patent process

In filing a patent application and paying required fees, the USPTO provides forms and an electronic filing tool. You may also wish to find a patent attorney or agent to help draft the required description of the invention and claims, and any required drawings.

This page provides information on the types of patents and types of patent applications, and the examination process. It also covers how to conduct a preliminary search and find registered patent practitioners to help with your application. We also walk you through how to file your application electronically or by mail.


Search for patents and prior art

You may make a preliminary search of patents and other publications to discover if a particular invention or one similar to it has been shown in prior art. You may also consider employing patent attorneys or agents to do the search.

This search may not be as complete as ours when examining an application, but it only serves, as its name indicates, a preliminary purpose. The patent examiner may, and often does, reject claims in an application based on information not found in the preliminary search. Each individual associated with processing a patent application has a duty to disclose all information, including any prior art, known to be material to patentability.

We suggest a six-step strategy for preliminary searches of U.S. patents and published applications, using free online resources from us and our international partners. The Patent Public Search tool and Inventor Search Assistant are web-based search tools.


Attorneys and agents

Preparing a patent application and conducting the proceedings requires knowledge of patent law, USPTO rules and procedures, and scientific or technical knowledge related to the particular invention. While you may prosecute the application without these skills, you might not get all the protection you can without an experienced attorney/agent’s help. So we suggest you hire a registered patent practitioner to draft and prosecute your application.

The USPTO registers both patent attorneys and non-attorneys called "patent agents" for permission to prepare and prosecute patent applications. When you appoint an attorney or agent, the USPTO does not communicate with you directly, but instead with the attorney or agent.

In employing a patent attorney or agent, you execute a power of attorney, filed and made of record in the application file. You may contact the USPTO concerning the status of your application, and remove the attorney or agent at any time by revoking the power of attorney. MPEP § 400 provides more information on power of attorney, naming a representative, and corresponding with us regarding a patent application.


Most inventors employ the services of registered patent practitioners. Inventors and small businesses meeting certain financial and other criteria may be eligible for free legal assistance in preparing and filing a patent application. The Patent Pro Bono Program, a nationwide network of independently operated regional programs, matches volunteer patent professionals with financially underresourced inventors and small businesses to provide them with patent protection services. Each regional program serves residents of one or more states.

Types of patents 

There are three types of patents: utility, design and plant. Utility and plant patent applications can be provisional and nonprovisional. Provisional applications may not be filed for design inventions.

Utility patent with icon and examples

Utility patents

These may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers a new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvements of these.

The elements of a nonprovisional utility application, if applicable, should appear in the following order:

  1. Application transmittal form (access form)
  2. Fee transmittal form (access form)
  3. Application data sheet (more details)
  4. Specification (more details below
  5. Drawings (more details below)
  6. Executed oath or declaration (more details below)

For more detail, see A Guide to Filing a Utility Patent Application.


Design patent with icon and examples

Design patents

Patent laws provide for the granting of design patents to anyone who has invented a new, original ornamental design for an article of manufacture. The ornamental characteristics must be embodied in or applied to such an article. The subject matter may relate to the configuration or shape of an article, surface ornamentation applied to it, or the combination of both. A surface ornamentation design is inseparable from the article to which it is applied and cannot exist alone. It must be a definite pattern applied to an article of manufacture.

The design patent protects only the appearance of an article, not its functional features. The proceedings relating to the granting of design patents are similar to those for other patents, with a few differences. See the current fee schedule for the appropriate filing, search, and examination fees.

The elements of the design application, if applicable, should appear in this order:

  1. Design application transmittal form (access form)
  2. Fee transmittal form (access form)
  3. Application data sheet (see § 1.76) (more details)
  4. Specification (more details below)
  5. Drawings or photographs 
  6. The inventor's oath or declaration (see § 1.153[b])


Plant patent with icon and examples

Plant patents

The law also provides for the granting of a patent to anyone inventing or discovering and asexually reproducing any distinct and new variety of plant. This includes cultivated sports, mutants, hybrids, and newly found seedlings, other than a tuber-propagated plant or a plant found in an uncultivated state.

An application for a plant patent consists of the same parts as other applications. The term of a plant patent is 20 years from the application filing date in the United States, or if the application contains a specific reference to an earlier-filed application under 35 U.S.C. 120, 121 or 365(c), from the date the earliest such application was filed.

The filing and issue fees on plant applications can be found in the fee schedule. For a qualifying small entity, most fees are cut by half (35 U.S.C. 41[h][1]). For a qualifying micro entity (37 CFR 1.29), most fees are reduced by 80%. Plant patent applications may be published pursuant to Title 35, U.S. Code, Section 122(b), but the fee is not reduced for small entities.

A plant patent application is permitted to be filed at the USPTO via Patent Center. Please visit Plant Patent Applicants guidelines for more information.

Asexually propagated plants are those reproduced by means other than from seeds, such as by the rooting of cuttings, layering, budding, grafting, inarching, etc.

The Plant Variety Protection Office (PVPO) provides intellectual property protection to breeders of new varieties of sexually reproduced, tuber propagated, and asexually reproduced plant varieties. With reference to tuber propagated plants, for which a plant patent cannot be obtained, the term "tuber" is used in its narrow horticultural sense as meaning a short, thickened portion of an underground branch. Such plants covered by the term "tuber propagated" are the Irish potato and the Jerusalem artichoke. This exception is made because this group alone, among asexually reproduced plants, is propagated by the same part of the plant that is sold as food.  

The genes, traits, and parts of a plant, as well as varieties, may also be protected with a utility patent.

The elements of the plant application, if applicable, should appear in this order:

  1. Plant application transmittal form (access form)
  2. Fee transmittal form (access form)
  3. Application data sheet (see § 1.76) (more details)
  4. Specification (more details below)
  5. Drawings (in duplicate) (more details below)
  6. The inventor's oath or declaration (§ 1.162) (more details below)

For more detail, see the publication General information about 35 U.S.C. 161 plant patents and MPEP § 1600.


Types of patent applications

Graphic showing that Utility and Plant patents can be provisional and non-provisional

Publication of patent applications

Except in specific situations such as when an applicant has requested non-publication, utility and plant patent applications are published before a patent is granted. Publication occurs after the expiration of an 18-month period following the earliest effective filing date or priority date claimed by an application.

Following publication, the application is no longer held in confidence by the USPTO, and anyone may request access to the entire file history of the application, and view the application on the USPTO website.

Filing, search, and examination fees

A patent application is subject to fees. Accepted payment methods include checks, credit/debit cards, or electronic fund transfers. To avoid a surcharge, submit the filing, search, and examination fees upon filing. An issue fee is required after an application is allowed and before granting of a patent. Fees are subject to change; consult the USPTO fee schedule for more detail.


You may be entitled to discounted fees, depending upon qualification as a micro-entity or small entity. If you and any other rights holder in your invention qualify as a small entity under 37 CFR 1.27(a) as an independent inventor, small business concern, or nonprofit organization, most fees are reduced by half by claiming small entity status.

Fees discounted cover filing, searching, examining, issuing, appealing, and maintaining patents and their applications.

You must determine that small entity status is appropriate before asserting entitlement to such status. Note that electronic filing further lowers the filing fee.

Fees are reduced by 80% for any micro-entity that certifies that the requirements under 37 CFR 1.29(a) or (d) are met.

You must determine that micro-entity status is appropriate before filing the required certification and paying the 80-percent discounted fees. The patent forms webpage, indexed under “Forms, Patents,” has two micro-entity certification forms: PTO/SB/15A for certifying on the “gross income basis” under 37 CFR 1.29(a), and PTO/SB/15B for the “institution of higher education basis” under 37 CFR 1.29(d).

Any regular nonprovisional utility application filed by postal mail or hand-delivery will require an additional $400 “non-electronic filing fee.” This is reduced by 60% (to $200) if you qualify for small entity status under 37 CFR 1.27(a) or micro-entity status under 37 CFR 1.29(a) or (d). The only way to avoid the additional $400 fee is by filing electronically. For more information, see A Guide to Filing a Utility Patent Application.

Design, plant, and provisional applications are not subject to the additional fee and may be filed by postal mail or hand-delivery without it. Direct your questions regarding filing applications electronically to the Electronic Business Center at 866-217-9197.

Models, exhibits, and specimens

A working model, or other physical exhibit, is not ordinarily required, since the description of the invention in the specification and drawings must be full, clear, and complete enough to understand the invention without the aid of a model. A working model may be requested in applications for alleged perpetual motion devices.

MPEP § 608.03 explains the requirements and handling of models, exhibits, and specimens. Unless required, a model may generally not be admitted to the prosecution record unless filed with a petition (and related fee), and an explanation why the model is necessary to demonstrate patentability.

When the invention relates to a composition of matter, you may be required to furnish specimens, or its ingredients or intermediates, for inspection or experiment. Microbiological inventions require a deposit of the microorganism involved. If a model is not needed anymore, it may be returned to you, but at your expense.

Examination of applications and proceedings

The examination of patent applications is divided among various technology centers (TCs), each overseeing assigned fields of technology. Each TC is headed by group directors and staffed by examiners and support staff. The examiners review applications and determine whether patents can be granted.

The examination consists of a study for compliance with legal requirements, along with a search through U.S. patents, publications of patent applications, foreign patent documents, and available literature. This is to see if the claimed invention is new, useful, and non-obvious, and if the application meets patent statute requirements and rules of practice. If the examiner gives a favorable decision, a patent is granted.

We begin by reviewing your submitted non-provisional application. Missing information or items results in an official letter from the USPTO notifying you of what’s missing. You will be given a specific time period to complete the filing. Once your application is accepted as complete, it will be assigned for examination.

Your examiner will then review the application to determine if it meets patenting requirements. An official correspondence called First Action on the Merits will explain the reasons for any objections or rejections.

You will be able to amend the application or argue against the examiner's objections/rejections. If your response, including amendments, to the First Action on the Merits overcomes all objections/rejections, the examiner will issue a notice of allowance, and a patent will be published after payment of the issue fee.

If your amendments and response do not overcome all objections/rejections, the examiner may send a Final Action. If your response to a Final Action does not overcome all objections/rejections or if any claims have been twice rejected, you can appeal to the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB).

The patent process overview page provides more detailed information.

Patent examination can be a lengthy process. We maintain a data portal for general information about the average pendency of applications. Examiners take up assigned applications in the order they were filed or in accordance with set procedures. Any application will not be advanced out of turn for examination or further action except according to the rules, or upon order of the USPTO Director to expedite agency business, or upon a showing that (in the Director’s opinion) will justify advancement. Various programs and initiatives are available in certain circumstances to speed up the process.


Ready to file?

Use the USPTO's electronic filing systems to submit utility and provisional applications and many other types of correspondence. When ready to file, access Patent Center for more instructions.

  • Patent Center is the newest tool for electronic filing and for managing applications. Visit the Patent Center Information page for more information.

General information and correspondence

All business with the USPTO should be conducted in writing. You, and attorneys or agents, are required to conduct business with decorum and courtesy. Papers presented in violation of this requirement will be closed.

Regular nonprovisional utility applications must be filed via Patent Center to avoid the $400 non-electronic filing fee. Other patent correspondence — including design, plant, and provisional application filings — as well as correspondence filed in a nonprovisional application after the filing date (“follow-on” correspondence), can still be mailed or hand-delivered without the $400 fee.

Other patent-related postal correspondence should be addressed to:

Commissioner for Patents
P.O. Box 1450
Alexandria, VA 22313-1450

If a mail stop is appropriate, it should also be used. Mail addressed to different mail stops should be mailed separately to ensure proper routing.

Separate letters (not necessarily in separate envelopes) should be written for each distinct inquiry, such as assignments, payments, orders for printed copies of patents and records, and other requests. None should be included with letters responding to office actions.