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A New Process At The U.S. Patent And Trademark Office Brings A Dawn of Pain-Free Patents

This month, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is switching from its more than 250-year-old "first-to-invent" system to a "first-to-file" approach. That will eliminate "interference," a dreaded process through which other inventors could claim an idea as their own. The road to design protection just got less windy.


  1. Have idea.
  2. Reduce it to practice—i.e., create a prototype.
  3. File a complete patent application.
  4. Case is sent to the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences.
  5. Interference declared!
  6. "Counts" determined, i.e., the number of ways a patent allegedly interferes with someone else's idea.
  7. Inventors offer proof of who first reduced the idea to practice.
  8. Inventors offer proof of who first had the idea.
  9. Too close to call!
  10. A big group throwdown: interviews, evidence, hearings.
  11. Winners declared.
  12. But wait, on which counts?
  13. You win on the idea, but not on the use of it.
  14. You're screwed.


  1. Have idea.
  2. File provisional patent application.
  3. File complete patent application within a year.
  4. You're good.

[Image: Flickr user Gabriel Jorby]

A version of this article appeared in the March 2013 issue of Fast Company magazine.