Getting a patent for your invention or business process is a long and involved procedure that generally requires the help of a professional patent-filing service at a cost of thousands of dollars. Even after investing all that time and money, there's no guarantee that the U.S. Patent Office will grant a patent for your idea. However, you can file for a form of protection known as a provisional patent, which provides some patent benefits for one year. Filing is simple and reduced fees are available for small-business applicants.
Visit the "Provisional Application for Patent" page of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website. The page provides background on provisional patents and explains the limits and advantages of this protection.
Prepare a written description of your invention; include drawings if they are relevant and help to explain your device. There is no form or prescribed format for your description, so write it up as you see fit.
Prepare a cover sheet for your provisional patent application. You can use a form provided by the Patent Office or create your own cover sheet. The cover sheet should include all required information: Identify the document as a provisional application, and include the name and address of inventor(s) and the title of the invention. If you have a patent attorney or agent, or are involved with a government agency in the development of your invention, this information should also be included.
Check the "Fee Page" for filing a provisional patent application. The Patent Office periodically adjusts the fees it charges. Find the fee for your provisional application. Note that fees are reduced for small businesses that submit an application. You can also call the Patent Office during business hours at 800-786-9199 for fee information.
Submit your completed application and fee by mail to the Commissioner for Patents, P.O. Box 1450, Alexandria, VA 22313-1450. Include a check for the fee made out to "Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office."