Technically, there is no such thing as a “provisional patent.” The patent law provides for a “provisional application,” which isn’t subject to some of the formal requirements for a regular patent application. A provisional application, however, is not intended to, itself, provide any enforceable rights.
It is not examined by the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) and is automatically abandoned 12 months after filing. It does not itself ever mature into a patent. For a patent to issue on the subject matter described in the provisional, a regular application claiming priority on the provisional application must be filed within a year of the provisional. And the provisional application must include adequate “support” for the claims of the regular application. In addition, any corresponding foreign applications must be filed within that one-year period.
Michael Lechter is author of Protecting Your #1 Asset : Creating Fortunes from Your Ideas : An Intellectual Property Handbook.