A client recently asked: I have a few inventions and I’m wondering if I can save money by combining them into a single provisional patent application?
Your Patent Portfolio should always be developed with your business goals in mind. I passed the question back to the client and asked, what do you intend to do with these three innovations? If licensing is a potential goal, then combining all into one filing should be avoided.
In general, if you can afford to – file multiple applications. There are far more advantages that, depending on your financial situation, may outweigh the cost savings of filing a single provisional. The list of the advantages are referenced in Part 2/3 of my three part article about multiple patent applications.
If you are a cash-strapped start-up, having a master single filing serves a considerable purpose. A single ‘master’ provisional may also be split up into multiple non-provisional filings down the road (and you would be required to do so by the USPTO). There is, however, a distinct risk in combining filings: the subject matter of all three inventions enters the public domain at the same time. First – consider that provisional applications do not become publicly available until you convert the filing to a non-provisional filing. If you never convert to a non-provisional and let the provisional expire (12 months after filing), it will always be kept in confidence by the USPTO. This leads us to the risk: If you combined three inventions in a single provisional filing, and only choose to pursue one or two of those three in a non-provisional conversion, the third invention will still enter the public domain without any claim to protection (since it was mixed in with the other inventions in the single provisional filing). Thus, you’ll be out of luck if you decide to keep the subject matter of any one of the three inventions a ‘trade secret’ at any point in time after the ‘master’ provisional filing.
If you are interested in more detail related to your situation it is best to speak with an attorney.
Yuri Eliezer heads the intellectual property practice group at Founders Legal. As an entrepreneur who saw the importance of early-stage patent protection, Yuri founded SmartUp®. Clients he has served include Microsoft, Cisco, Cox, AT&T, General Electric, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Coca-Cola.