There are several approaches to gaining patent protection including:
Provisional Application– low cost, quick to file, but not PTO examined and with only one-year active status. This application does not provide patent protection; its main purpose is to create an early filing date.
Utility Patent– this patent can result from a non-provisional utility application. It is PTO examined and can protect apparatus and method subject matter. Patent term is 20 years.
Design Patent– Protects only the external appearance of an object. Patent term is 14 years.
Foreign National Patent– there are several types that can follow-on from the US Utility or provisional application.
Foreign Regional Patent– most popular is the European regional patent which can protect in 38 countries. It can be filed as a follow-on from the US Utility or provisional applications. There are regionals in other parts of the world but no Pacific Rim country groups.
International Patent Application– this application does not provide patent protection but rather it is used to allow 30 months of decision-making time for deciding which foreign countries to seek patent protection in. It can be filed as a first application or as a follow-on to either the US utility or provisional applications.