We can sum up the entire process of obtaining a patent in five stages. Some of these stages may occur at your convenience, at a statutory time limit required by law, or by the speed at which the patent office can handle your invention.
Provisional application - A slightly shortened version of your invention may be filed with the office in order to investigate further benefits of the idea, perform additional market research, get to market more quickly, or delay payment of fees. A provisional application is not reviewed by the USPTO and must be followed by a non-provisional one year later.
Non-provisional application - A non-provisional application is the full application that the USPTO will review and negotiate with the applicant.
Office actions - When the USPTO makes objections or rejections to the application, they come in the form of an office action.
Allowance and issuance - If at least one claim is allowable after all office actions, the USPTO will issue the patent.