Provisional patent applications are placeholders for non-provisional patents. They also allow you to use the term “Patent Pending” in connection with the description of the invention.
Provisional patent applications give you that early filing date (the date you submit your provisional patent application), but they do not mature into an issued patent automatically. You MUST file a non-provisional patent application within one year in order to secure your patent rights. Otherwise, the application will go abandoned and the subject introduced in the provisional patent application will not be protected.
Many people believe they can file provisional patent applications on their own. After all, there are very few formal requirements for a provisional patent application, and you do not have to list claims in the application. However, a provisional patent application can be used as evidence that there was no invention (or the invention was not as claimed in your non-provisional patent) at the time of filing the provisional patent application. Don’t make this mistake, and hire an attorney to help with your provisional patent application.