What is a Provisional Patent

Jon Muskin, writing on Inventor Digest, explains that there’s no such thing as a provisional patent, and other mistakes contests make on Shark Tank:

Contestants frequently make the same mistake which annoys me every time. The sharks commonly ask the contestants whether they have a patent on their invention. The contestant frequently replies with, “I have a provisional patent.” To my surprise, the sharks (who are generally very business savvy) typically accept this answer and move on. However, if I were a shark on the show I would immediately respond with “I’m out.” All inventors should know that there is no such thing as a provisional patent.

There is such a thing as a provisional patent application. However, a provisional patent application is never examined and basically serves a “placeholder” for a forthcoming non-provisional application. Anyone can file a provisional application on anything they want and state they have a provisional application. For example, someone can go out and file a provisional application on the same light bulb that Edison invented in 1879 and claim they have a “provisional patent application” on the light bulb. But of course, any forthcoming non-provisional application would be rejected by the United States Patent and Trademark Office and hence the provisional application in this case is completely worthless.

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