There are two types of patent processes available: provisional and non-provisional. A provisional patent application essentially holds your spot with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for a year while you further develop the idea.
There are advantages and disadvantages of going the provisional route. On one hand, the provisional application is significantly cheaper, less detailed, and allows you to further develop the idea during the year. You can also use the "patent pending" term while marketing your invention. The provisional patent application is popular with many inventors because it essentially gives them a year to explore the market, alter the invention accordingly, and still have the benefit of the original filing date.
On the other hand, you will still have to file the non-provisional patent at the end of the 12 months. The patent review process of the USPTO does not begin until the non-provisional patent is filed. Thus, going the provisional route may delay the ultimate issuance of the patent. For more developed inventions where the market is known, the non-provisional route may be the way to go.
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