A provisional patent application consists of a written description of your invention and drawings that together explain how to make and use your invention. The drawings may be informal. The provisional application is not examined by the Patent Office and functions as a placeholder for a subsequently filed utility patent application (also referred to as a regular application or a nonprovisional patent application). An inventor has one year from the filing date of the provisional application in which to file a utility patent application for the same invention, claiming the benefit of the filing date of the provisional application.

Because a provisional application requires the same level of detail as a utility application, it is typically not much quicker or less costly than a utility application. With limited time or financial resources, however, a provisional application may be better than no patent application. For example, a provisional application may be advantageous if the inventor plans to disclose the invention on short notice and lacks sufficient time to prepare a utility patent application. In that situation, the provisional application provides the inventor with an earlier filing date than might otherwise be obtained, provided that the subject matter claimed in the utility application was disclosed in the provisional application.

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