Can You Search for Provisional Patents?

The short answer:  No and then Yes.

In the realm of U.S. patents, a provisional patent application stands as a silent guardian of innovation. Unlike their non-provisional counterparts, provisional patent applications are enveloped in secrecy, never making their debut in public records or searchable databases. This anonymity is by design, preserving the initial sketches of invention without the scrutiny of examination for a period of 12 months.

A provisional patent in the United States is meant to stand in as a placeholder for the applicant in order to complete the utility patent application.

The Path to Secrecy

Provisional patent applications, by their very nature, are not subjected to the examination process and thus, do not share the same fate of publication after 18 months like standard U.S. patent applications. This period of protection serves as a precursor to a more formal utility patent application filing, allowing inventors to refine their innovations while holding the fort of confidentiality. As these applications automatically expire after a year unless a non-provisional utility application is filed, their contents remain a guarded secret within the U.S. Patent Office.

A Glimpse Through Exceptions

Despite this shield of secrecy, there are narrow pathways through which the details of a provisional patent application might see the light of day. These exceptions arise when a non-provisional patent application, claiming the priority of its provisional predecessor, is either published or granted as a patent. Under such circumstances, the previously unseen provisional application can be accessed through specific requests to the U.S. Patent Office or via the Public PAIR system. However, it’s crucial to understand that this does not equate to a publication of the provisional application itself; its accessibility is limited and does not include the ability for public search.  See 37 C.F.R. §1.11

Do you have questions about protecting your inventions by filing for a patent? Ask us here at Verna Law by sending an e-mail to or by calling us at 914-908-6757.