The diagram below provides a timeline of the various steps to obtaining a patent on your invention. The time to issue varies greatly by patent, but it will generally take between two and four years from the date of entry into the national phase. The national phase refers to that stage in the patent process starting with the filing of a non-provisional patent in an individual patent jurisdiction (typically a country).
In patent-speak, conception has been defined as "the complete performance of the mental part of the inventive act" and it is "the formation in the mind of the inventor of a definite and permanent idea of the complete and operative invention as it is thereafter to be applied in practice."
Unless an applicant specifically requests that the application not be published, and provided the relevant application is filed only in the US, all patent applications are published about 18 months after the priority date of the application. The priority date is the date on which the earliest version of the current application was filed. It defines what is prior art and what is not; prior art is everything publicly known before the priority date. If the application is a PCT, the results of a search performed by an International Searching Authority (ISA) will issue along with publication of the patent, accompanied by a written opinion regarding the patentability of the invention.
Fees fall into two basic types, those associated with applications and those associated with issued patents. Fees vary by jurisdiction, and also depend in part upon the length of and number of claims in the application. For applications there are fees for filing, issuance, adding extra examinations, appealing rejections, and extending deadlines. The fees for issued patents are called maintenance fees or annuities. The US has only three maintenance fees, due at the 3.5, 7.5 and 11.5 year anniversaries of the patent's issue date, but other countries have annual or some other periodicity of maintenance