Once a patent application is received by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), a patent examiner is assigned to the application. He or she is responsible for deciding whether the application meets all technical requirements, whether the invention qualifies for a patent and, assuming it does, what the scope of the patent should be.
Usually, back and forth communications occur between the applicant and the examiner regarding these issues. Typically this takes between one and three years and involves significant amendments by the applicant. The most serious and difficult issue to fix is whether the invention qualifies for a patent in light of previous developments—that is, whether the invention is novel and nonobvious in light of the prior art.
Eventually, if the examiner’s objections are overcome by the applicant, the invention is approved for a patent. Then, the applicant pays a patent issue fee ($370 for independent inventors, nonprofit corporations and for-profit corporations with fewer than 500 employees or $740 for for-profit companies with 500 or more employees; current as of August, 2002), and receives an official (ribboned) copy of the patent.
To keep a patent in effect, three additional fees must be paid over the life of the patent. The total patent fee for a small inventor, from application to issue to expiration, is approximately $4,500 (current as of August, 2002). For large corporations, it is twice this amount.
Related terms: allowance; amendment of patent application; Board of Appeals; Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences; Board of Patent Interferences; CCPA (Court of Customs and Patent Appeals); Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office; continuation application; continuation-in-part application (CIP); divisional application; double patenting; file wrapper; final office action; first office action; grant of patent; issue fee; Manual of Patent Examining Procedure (MPEP); narrowing a claim; nonelected claims; notice of allowance; notice of references cited; office action; Official Gazette (OG); parent application; patent examiners; patent pending; prosecution of a patent application; reconsideration request; reissue patent; shotgun rejection of claims; substitute patent application; supplemental declaration.