On average, patent applicants generally see two office actions per each prosecution round. The second office action is usually the "final" office action, and most applicants are usually really confused by what they should do next.
I like to start out by telling my clients that final does not really mean final, and prosecution isn't really over unless you want it to be over. So what comes next? Here are the options that I lay out- easiest to hardest:
Option 1: The easiest option.
You can file a regular response (like you would for a non-final office action). You can receive an allowance after filing a response to a final office action, but you will likely receive an advisory action because most examiners do not spend as much time looking at responses to final office action than they do for responses to non-final office actions. An advisory action is a very brief document outlining why your application was not allowed- usually it consists of a form (Advisory Action Before the Filing of an Appeal Brief) and a continuation sheet that includes a paragraph of explanation. If you receive an advisory action, you have to respond to the advisory action within 6 months of the date of the final office action (not the advisory action).
I usually recommend this option to applicants who are not sure what to do. I also file the After Final Consideration Pilot Response Form along with the response to give the examiner more time to consider the response. If you do receive an advisory action after filing a regular response, you can request for continued examination (below) at that point.
Option 2: Take another stab at it.
You can file a request for continued examination (RCE) with a response. RCE removes the finality if the office action and the next office action you may receive will be non-final. There is a fee associated with filing an RCE, however. The USPTO fee for a first time RCE is $600 (small entities). After the first time, it's $850 (small entities).
This option is good if you need to make few more chances to go back and forth with the examiner. Most applicants file at least one RCE during prosecution, so this is a pretty popular choice.
Option 3: Not really ideal, but hey, it's doable.
You can file a continuation-in-part (CIP) application while your current nonprovisional patent application is pending. If you've made any improvements to this invention or would like to add information that would make your invention more distinct from the inventions disclosed in the prior art, it might be a good idea to file a CIP application. Once you file a CIP application, you can abandon your current application and basically start the prosecution process over. Obviously the downside is you have to start the application process over. But the upside is, you sort of know what to expect (i.e., which prior art you may see- although the examiner will conduct new searches) and you can include anything you've forgotten to put in your current pending application.
I normally don't recommend this option unless an applicant has new information that he/she would like to add to the application. It's also important to know that you will probably have the same examiner, so filing a CIP isn't like you'll file a new application, get a new patent examiner, and maybe the new examiner will allow your application.
Option 4: The hardest option.
You can file a notice of appeal to the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB). To appeal, you have to file a notice of appeal and submit an appeal brief within two months of filing the notice of appeal. You can also request an oral hearing. An oral hearing is usually appropriate when it is necessary or when it's desirable for a proper presentation of the appeal. (I've never had to request an oral hearing.) Appeals get the same treatment/consideration whether or not there is an oral hearing. Overall, an appeal is a pretty extensive ex-parte proceeding and I normally do not recommend this option unless the examiner is blatantly mischaracterizing or misinterpreting claims.