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This is perhaps a highly ambiguous question, so let's use an example.

say I have stumbled upon this new billion dollar idea which is stackexchange (assume it is exactly what it is now just that it hasn't been created yet), I have done a brief patent search and it appears no one has done this yet, and I have covered all the angles, from the creation of multiple modules based on topic (computer, patents etc), to the idea of using the up/down arrows to mark a question's worthiness. Basically, I have this product (or project) all mapped out, and all we have to do now is to roll up the sleeves and do it.

now assume that I wish to file a provisional patent application to lock in an prior date for this wonderful idea, but immediately there are problems,

which exactly the aspects of stackexchange can I use as claims? also, while we are certainly going to include as much description and detail of the functionality of the software as we can in the specifications, there are certainly thousands of ways to describe the same process from different perspectives, how can I be sure that my description is the most "legally correct" one?

and this brings us back to my original question, just how serious a provisional patent application is? Undoubtedly, the more it looks like a non-provisional patent, the better. But if this is the level of prevision we should aspire to then why not just apply for a non-provisional parent directly? so from a functionalist perspective, is it right to think of the PPA as somewhat an "official memo" sent to and kept at the patent office, so that within a year you could file a non-provisional and point to the similarities it shares with the "memo" so as to demonstrate the original idea was invented several months (but less than 12) ago?

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what kind of answer do you expect? Your provisional patent should be as complete as possible -- they are not the right solution for everybody, but they are cheap, you can do them yourself and does not have to follow a particular format or legal-language. There is no bias for not following the format of a non-provisional patent, and I think this is the root of your misunderstanding of the purpose of provisional patents. –  Soren Aug 14 at 20:49
    
If your budget dictates you are going to do it yourself I would get a patent it yourself book, study it and follow it as if you were creating a regular application - other than claiming. Aiming high might help you get close to target when you are done. If the date is needed (if not the provisional didn't end up coming into play at all) to show that the topic in question was described to a required level of depth, the words of the provisional will be evaluated exactly as they would be in studying a regular application. –  George White Aug 14 at 21:29
    
@Soren basically, I have an idea to build a website, there are several aspects I think are new (that is, I wish to protect them), but I need to hire people to build it, is a PPA the correct one to file in this case? –  lukzx591 Aug 15 at 19:26
    
@Soren so I was somewhat right in thinking that a PPA is an "offical memo" (given its different nature from non-provisonal), only that you should specify as hard as you can in this memo about your invention, so that it could be related to the later non-provisional, is this about correct? –  lukzx591 Aug 15 at 19:35
    
@White not exactly because of budget, I have met an attorney and it costs at least 6,500 just for a PPA, I find it perhaps unduly expensive. I am reading the book you mentioned, indeed it is very helpful. Two questions, 1st, so it is possible to file a PPA but later not using it at all? how come? and 2nd, as to reviewing the provisional to provide a prior date for the topic in question, would it count if the provisional is drafted in non-legal language but reflects the "spirit" of the invention (so I can argue they, though differently written, share the same logic)? –  lukzx591 Aug 15 at 19:49

2 Answers 2

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Your provisional patent should be as complete and clear as possible for the final non-provisional patent to benefit from the earlier filing data -- so as much effort as you can, making the description as clear and precise as possible.

That being said, the final patent can somewhat differ from the provisional patent, however the subject matter which is different will not benefit from the earlier filing data, but will be valid from the filing date of the non-provisional patent.

In the US your have a one year grace period from the invention until you have to file a patent to gain protection -- so it may not be necessary to file a provisional patent at all -- and in that case the provisional patent just servers as what you call "an official memo" which makes it easy to document the original date of the invention for the later filing of the non-provisional.

The benefit of the provisional patent, is that you can do it yourself as it does not require any special legal language or claims, but can be written in a plain technical format -- and it is cheap -- the filing fee if you do it yourself is $65 (or $130 depending on what size entity you are).

If you get an attorney involved he will most likely shy away from doing a provisional patent as the attorney likely will have internal standards which applies equally to provisional and non-provisional patents and hence the work is almost the same for him.

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you somehow inspire me to pose another question, just how useful is patent? Mark Zuckerberg filed his first patent in 2006, way after Facebook was operational, and obviously there is nothing stopping Samsung from emulating Apple in the making of smartphones, maybe it is better to just focus on making the product, and use patents solely as offensive weapons when you have enough cash to hire lawyers to write patent applications and sure other companies, –  lukzx591 Aug 15 at 23:01
    
similarly, if I completely skip patenting altogether, is it possible for others to patent my invention and thereby prevent me from conducting my own business? does it stand to reason that this is impossible? Scenario #1, in the US, I disclose at T=0 without filing for patents, I will have priority for patenting before T+1 year, after 1 year nobody can patent it. Scenairo #2, in Europe, I disclose at T=0 without filing for patents, nobody can since patent it –  lukzx591 Aug 15 at 23:39
    
also how is this related to the new "first to file" system, which seems to suggest that if I invent and disclose at T=0, and somebody files for a patent after the 1 year grace period, he will get the patent for my invention, even though i could prove myself to be the first inventor –  lukzx591 Aug 16 at 0:15
    
These are very good questions, some probably worth raisng -- there are already a number of questions/answers on this site asking whether to do trade secret or patents -- my take is that it really depends on what you expect to do with it. As someone who have been on both sides of acquiring and being acquired, it is my belief that if you are a technology start-up you should aim at 5-10 patents on your core technology -- if you are a media company, then maybe you don't need any patents -- so there is no one-size-fit-all answer. –  Soren Aug 16 at 0:48

If your budget dictates you are going to do it yourself I would get a patent it yourself book, study it and follow it as if you were creating a regular application - other than claiming. Aiming high might help you get close to target when you are done. If the date is needed (if not the provisional didn't end up coming into play at all) to show that the topic in question was described to a required level of depth, the words of the provisional will be evaluated exactly as they would be in studying a regular application

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