When choosing how you can best protect your intellectual property there are several options available. Among these options are utility (non-provisional) patents, design patents, and provisional patents.
A provisional patent application is a significantly less expensive and complicated patent option. This is the reason that many inventors choose to pursue a provisional patent as a starting point. A provisional patent can be prepared and filed quickly and gives the inventor “patent-pending” status as soon as the application is filed. Upon filing, the inventor has 1 year of protection to market the invention, build prototypes, expand on the invention and how it works, receive funding, etc. Within this 1-year window, an inventor must file for a utility patent application or lose his/her priority date of the provisional filing.
The provisional patent application is not a substitute for filing a non-provisional patent application. It's important to understand that even if you file a provisional patent application, the inventor will still need to file a non-provisional application within the time allotted to receive and retain patent protection. Think of the provisional patent application as a possible step in the patent process, but not the final step.
A utility patent, also referred to as a non-provisional patent application provides protection for an inventor for 20 years as opposed to the provisional patent which provides the inventor with a 1-year window of protection for the inventor.
A design patent is a form of legal protection granted to the ornamental design of a functional item. A design patent protects the ornamental design of an invention, not the usefulness.