Generally, provisional patent applications are never officially published by the U.S. Patent Office and most other patent offices. However, their subsequent, corresponding non-provisional patent applications may be published. As such, a published non-provisional application or issued patent may make reference to a provisional application by title, assigned serial (government reference) number for the application, and filing date but the actual provisional application is not “published” in the Official Gazette of the United States Patent & Trademark Office.
When most Silicon Valley inventors, startups and entrepreneurs and patent examiners conduct a patent search they look for “prior art” which refers to patents or printed publications from across the world that is believed to have bearing on the patentability of any claim of a patent application being considered. 35 U.S.C. §301.
Quick answer: Currently, there exists no online search engine for general keyword searching of provisional patent applications in a manner similar to the USPTO patent search database, WIPO’s patentscope database and GooglePatents. Typically, provisional applications are not part of the “prior art” relating to a patent search and are not typically deemed as “printed publications” in the eyes of the United States Patent & Trademark Office.
However, as we often say in Silicon Valley, there is a “hack” to gaining access to particular provisional applications given a combination of a known title, serial number, filing data and possible inventors associated with the desired “target” provisional application. One critical reason why one would want to access a provisional application is to gain temporal insights as to what actual inventive features were primordially present in the provisional application and, perhaps, evolved or originally intact as related to the corresponding issued patent or published non-provisional application that can be easily accessed online.
Long answer: One potential online hack, for any issued US Patent Application or published non-provisional patent application, a provisional patent application becomes a component part of the electronic document case file for that particular patent application, often referred to as a “file wrapper”. Thus by gaining a copy of the file wrapper from the Patent Office you should also gain access to at least one entire provisional application as a component of the electronic case file. See 37 C.F.R. §1.11
How to gain patent application access online?
The public portal for the Patent Application Information Retrieval (PAIRS) on the uspto.gov site is where you would need to go and provide the published or issued patent application information of the file wrapper you want to acquire. Once that patent is found, then the referenced, target provisional patent application can be accessed through the Image File Wrapper (IFW) tab or filter provided on the USPTO.gov website. Please keep in mind, that if you do not see the IFW tab filter for your particular search target provisional patent application, such a provisional may not be available through this online portal. To date about half of the patents on the USPTO search database feature the IFW as this is a relatively new feature.
How to gain patent application access offline?
This is a last resort due to lack of online resources? Secondly, the hackiest of all offline hacks to finding your desired provisional patent application is filing a Petition to Access or a Power to Inspect with the USPTO’s FILE INFORMATION UNIT, a copy of one sample form among others can be obtained online must be directly brought to the File Information Unit: Form – PTO/SB/68. This offline government agency process can be arduous. One should first review the rules for doing so online by accessing the UPSTO’s Manual of Patent Examining Procedure MPEP Section 103. Next, the USPTO’s free Inventor’s Assistance Center can help to a significant degree.
If complexities still linger, as the USPTO inventor’s assistance center will also advise, a consultation with a patent attorney having USPTO bar registration should be considered.