What is a Poor Man’s Patent?

As many inventors know, obtaining a patent can be a very long and expensive process. Often, thousands of dollars are spent on everything from filing fees to hiring a patent attorney.

Given an inventor’s legitimate interest in securing their idea, one may wonder if an easier and cheaper option exists than the formal patent application process. One alternative is colloquially referred to in the world of intellectual property as a ‘Poor Man’s Patent.’

A Poor Man’s Patent involves an inventor mailing him or herself a description of their invention in a postmarked letter (1). In this rudimentary system, the date that the letter was postmarked serves as the date that the idea was invented, which can be used against anyone who claims they were the first to invent the product (1). To inventors, this may seem like a logical and effective way of securing their intellectual property rights; however, this belief is inherently flawed.

Before the American Invents Act of 2013, The United States was a “first to invent” country, meaning that the first person to come up with the invention, not necessarily the first to file the invention with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), was the one who received the patent. Before 2013, under the “first to invent” system, an inventor who postmarks a letter that describes the invention would be entitled to a patent since they were the first to invent. However, after 2013, with the passing of the American Invents Act, the system transitioned from “first to invent” to “first to file.” This means that the “first inventor to file for a patent has priority for that patent.” (1). Under the “first to file” system, there exists no value in obtaining a Poor Man’s Patent since it now only matters who filed for the patent first and not who came up with the idea first. Essentially, a Poor Man’s Patent has about as much value today as the postage affixed to the envelope.

Although obtaining a Poor Man’s Patent is no longer a viable option, there exist other ways for inventors who do not have the financial resources to go through with the formal patent application process to secure their intellectual property. To be discussed in future articles, two possible ways are 1) filing a provisional patent application and 2) publishing the idea. 


  1. https://www.goldsteinpatentlaw.com/what-is-poor-mans-patent/#:~:text=A%20poor%20man's%20patent%20is,this%20written%20description%20was%20postmarked.

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