Aside from cost, the second most frequent line of questions from first-time inventors is about timing and process. Below is a simplified flow chart of the patent process:
Preparing and drafting a patent application is a process that is within the control of the inventor. A diligent inventor working with a responsive patent attorney can typically file a quality patent application within weeks.
Once the application is filed, however, there is a waiting period before the utility application is reviewed by a patent examiner. That period of time will change based on the backlog of applications at the USPTO and the number of examiners within a given technology group. Fortunately, the USPTO has introduced a First Office-Action Estimator available at https://www.uspto.gov/learning-and-resources/statistics/first-office-action-estimator.
The Estimator asks for a group art unit (which is available on the filing receipt of a utility patent), and will output the current wait time within that group art unit. This can be a helpful tool for patent attorneys and inventors. Note that Private Pair also provides a First Action Predictor, which in some our tests produced slightly different results from the Estimator. For example, in one case the Estimator suggested that an Office Action will be forthcoming in nine months, while the First Action Predictor suggested that the wait would be ten months. Such slight variations indicate that the estimates are somewhat dependable. In rare cases, where timing is critical, it would probably be best to call the Examiner, or consider other techniques to expedite prosecution. This previous post outlines some of those techniques.