In this video, I am going to answer the question: Will a Poor Man Patent (that is, mailing a description of my invention to myself) preserve legal rights to my invention?

What is a Poor Man Patent?

Read the transcript.

The so-called Poor Man patent application is something that came about under the old patent law – the law that existed prior to March 2013. In March 2013, the new law took effect. Under the old law, you could think of an idea (or “invent first”), write it down, file your patent application after someone else filed for the same idea, and if you have evidence to prove that you invented before they did, the Patent Office might give you the patent even though someone else filed their application for the same invention before you filed your patent application. That’s why people would sometimes mail themselves a copy – to have a letter dated by the Post Office showing when they had actually invented.

But let’s not even go there, because the law changed in 2013. That evidence is worthless under the new law.

Now the law says that the United States is a First-To-File system. That means that even if you think of an idea first, if someone else thinks of the same idea after you and files their patent application before you file, then the Patent Office is going to give them the patent. So filing this Poor Man patent application is not going to be worth anything. Because even if you can prove that you invented first, the Patent Office doesn’t care. All that matters is who filed their patent application first.

What to do on a tight budget?

So as a patent attorney who works with individuals and small businesses, I understand that you may not have a huge budget. But you have to go beyond the “mailing an invention” to yourself if you want to preserve rights to your invention. You have to actually file an application at the United States Patent Office.

Can I file a Provisional Patent Application?

Yes. You can effect a proper filing with the US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), even on a budget, by filing what is called a Provisional Patent Application. Now a Provisional Application gives you the same filing date as a regular utility application, and that’s what counts under the new patent law.

More importantly for budget-conscious inventors, the provisional patent application can usually be prepared fairly quickly, and can often be filed inexpensively (relative to a full utility application), and especially if you work with a patent attorney who understands provisional applications and how to file strategically to help individual inventors, smaller businesses and entrepreneurs who might have a limited budget.

I hope this answers your question. Remember, mailing a description of the invention to yourself will not preserve your patent rights – you must work with an attorney to file a patent application with the US PTO.