Does a Provisional Patent Protect My Idea?
Many inventors ask the question as to whether a “provisional patent” protects their invention. It is important to first note that there is no such thing as a “provisional patent” though this terminology is commonly used by inventors and some patent practitioners. The correct title is a “provisional patent application” and this is not a granted patent.
Only a granted patent gives you legally enforceable rights to sue a third-party for patent infringement. Since a provisional patent application only provides “patent pending” and is not a granted patent, a provisional patent application does not provide any legal protection from someone copying your invention (i.e. you cannot sue a third-party for patent infringement with just a provisional patent application pending at the U.S. Patent Office).
While a provisional patent application does not provide any immediate legal protection from infringers, a provisional patent application can preserve your future patent rights in the United States and in foreign countries by establishing an earlier priority filing date. Hence, a provisional patent application does have value by establishing an earlier priority filing date and giving you the legal right to say “patent pending” on your product. However, you will not be able to stop a third-party who copies your invention with your provisional patent application.