Frequently Asked Questions

Here are answers to some of the questions inventors often ask about the LegalCORPS Inventor Assistance Program.

Why must I fill out an inventor information form?

The program administrator and the case screeners need to know — in general terms — the subject matter of invention.  This assists in matching an eligible inventor with an attorney with the proper technical background.

Why do you ask who else helped conceive of this invention idea?

LegalCORPS needs to know if there could be questions regarding ownership of the invention.  If there is some question,  we might recruit a volunteer attorney who participates in other (non-patent-law) LegalCORPS programs for advice on this question before we match an eligible inventor with a patent attorney.

Why do you ask whom I’ve worked with for the past three years?

Companies have proprietary rights in inventions conceived by their employees during their work hours that are related to the employees’ work for the companies.

Why must I sign a confidentiality agreement?

If an inventor’s patent application has not by published by the USPTO,  we ask an eligible inventor to sign such an agreement and to share with LegalCORPS the contents of a filed but unpublished patent application.  (Participants in the Inventor Assistance Program from the LegalCORPS side also sign the confidentiality agreement.)

Why does LegalCORPS ask about prior confidentiality agreements, non-compete agreements or the like signed by the inventor?

LegalCORPS needs to know if there are others already engaged to do work on this invention or if there is a question about ownership of the invention.  The inventor might need to apply for assistance from other LegalCORPS programs for advice on this question before we match an eligible inventor with a patent attorney.

Why does LegalCORPS help only inventors with patent applications already on file?

All assistance LegalCORPS provides is through the service of volunteer attorneys.  To assure volunteers that a request for free assistance involves a viable invention, a screening panel reviews inventors’ applications filed with the USPTO to ensure that the innovations described are not impossible (like a “perpetual motion machine”) and could be capable of being patented.    Also, a requirement that an applicant already have filed an application helps ensure that the inventor has developed the innovation beyond the “I’ve got an idea” stage — and does not expect an attorney to provide a viable framework for a patentable (and marketable) invention that the inventor cannot.

How can I get help if I don’t already have a patent application on file?

LegalCORPS offers regularly scheduled workshops about how to make and file a provisional patent applications.  (See the announcement of the home page of this web site.)  Also see the “Other Resources” page in this section of the web site.

Why won’t LegalCORPS provide assistance with patent litigation?

LegalCORPS’s scope of services does not include litigation.  Its mission includes only transactional business law assistance for low-income entrepreneurs and nonprofit organizations.  Its volunteers are not litigators.

What is the difference between a provisional patent application and a non-provisional application?

A provisional patent application is less costly to file and easier to file because there is no requirement to include portion called the ‘”claims” in this kind of filing.  However, there are many requirements, including a special cover letter.  See the USPTO publication “Provisional Application for Patent.

It also is important to know that:

  • The life of a provisional patent application is one year.
  • No patent will be issued from a provision filing.
  • The USPTO will not examine a provisional application.
  • The inventor has one year to get a non-provisional, or regular, utility patent application on file that would claim the benefit of the earlier filing date of the provisional application.

A non-provisional, or regular utility type, patent application is more costly to file. And has many more requirements.   (See  This application must have at least one claim.  A USPTO patent examiner will review this kind of application.  The examiner will communicate with the person who filed the application and send out “office actions” relevant to the application.