The USPTO published an introduction to the topic of provisionals: Provisional Application for Patent.
I like the introduction, but what isn't covered are the pitfalls. The most common is based on the myth that a "sketchy" provisional locks in a filing date and gives one the ability to wait up to 12 months to file a detailed nonprovisional application. You have 12 months to file a nonprovisional, but only if the provisional meets the requirements of 35 USC 112. Many provisionals don't warrant a filing date.
Here's a scenario likely to repeat itself many times this year: an inventor prepares a sketchy provisional then after a long passage of time (e.g., nearly 12 months) contacts a patent attorney to file a nonprovisional to meet legal requirements. If no offer for sale, public use, or publication occurred prior to filing the provisional, the patent attorney can add any missing details in the nonprovisional. If not, one must file a nonprovisional within 12 months of the first activity or the patent will be lost.
False reliance on provisionals may be the leading cause of patent death once the one-year grace period is further limited under the first-to-file system of the America Invents act on March 13, 2013. And this is why patent attorneys require an invention disclosure with all activities pinned to a date.
For additional information under current US patent law, see my blog posts:
Leader Technologies v. FaceBook - Provisional Fails to Save Patent from On Sale Bar and Public Use
The Benefits of Provisional Applications: Slip, Sliding Away
Copyright © 2012 Robert Moll. All rights reserved.