This is probably my most frequently asked question. It is a very important one, too. A patent is a very powerful legal document. It gives you the right to sue someone for making, using, selling or importing your product without permission. Applying for a patent will cost money, and the process takes time. Your business plan has a budget for marketing, social media and manufacturing. Does your plan have a budget for a patent?
Your cost will depend on the type of patent application, who you choose to prepare it, whether your invention requires professional drawings, and whether you qualify for a filing fee discount.
Different types of patent applications offer different levels of protection. Not surprisingly, these come at different price points. This article will give you a general idea of what goes into the cost of a patent application and what questions to ask a patent professional.
One option is what the Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) calls a “provisional” patent application. Like its name suggests, this is a temporary, or stopgap, patent application. The PTO never examines it, and, without more, never becomes a patent. This is a good option for someone who is still developing their product, securing financing and/or building a business plan. The provisional application allows you to record your idea at the PTO by a certain date. Filing the provisional buys you a year to file a “non-provisional,” which IS examined and CAN become a patent.
A provisional patent application can in theory be as simple as a written specification and a cover sheet. However, many patent professionals file more than the minimum. This is because the provisional lays the groundwork for the non-provisional. In order to get the benefit of filing the earlier, provisional, application, your non-provisional must not add any content that was not previously filed.
A design patent application may be for you if what is unique about your product is how it looks. Design patents protect the ornamental and decorative, rather than functional, features of an invention. Design patents require a specification, a claim and precise technical drawings. You can in theory do your own drawings. However, these drawings define the scope of the invention, so they are critically important to get right. The PTO has specific rules about drawings, and specific rules about design patent drawings in particular. A professional patent illustrator will know these rules and be able to present your invention in the best possible light. You should expect to pay a professional patent illustrator at least $80/page for design patent drawings. The drawings will often be the most labor-intensive, and thus, expensive, part of the design patent.
If your invention is more functional than decorative, and you’ve got it more or less fully developed, you may be a good candidate for a non-provisional “utility” patent application. Unlike a design patent, a utility patent protects how something works. These require an abstract, written specifications and claims. Many inventions will require drawings as well. The written portion of the application in particular is extremely labor-intensive. Grammar matters. Punctuation and word choice matters. Internal consistency matters. You are trying to persuade a patent examiner why you deserve a patent.
All types of patents come with filing fees. To encourage innovation, the PTO has created a sliding scale of filing fees. If you meet certain income or employment qualifications, you are considered a “micro-entity” and are entitled to the greatest fee discount. You can see current (as of April 2017) patent filing fees here. For example, a micro-entity can file a provisional application for $65. Even a “small entity” can file for $130. So, in theory, if you are a micro-entity and file yourself, you can get a provisional application on file for less than the price of a trip to the grocery store. The value of that application, of course, depends on what it contains, and whether you follow up within a year with a non-provisional.
If you hire a patent professional to prepare your application, that adds to the cost. A patent professional does more than just file the application. In fact, most patent professionals will not just sign and file an application you have prepared yourself. They will want to put their own stamp on the application. In preparing the application, the patent professional is representing you before the PTO. With every word they write, they are advocating for you and your invention. It is a total package.
If you have made a few phone calls and asked about price, the person on the other end might hedge. This is not because they do not take you seriously, but rather because there are so many factors that go into the work that we do. This is true even for a “simple” provisional. It is difficult to give you a one size fits all price, sight unseen.
Notice I keep saying patent “professional.” This is because you can hire someone called a patent “agent” to prepare your application. This is someone who has the technical background to represent you at the PTO but is not an attorney. It is difficult to say how much more because there are so many factors which determine this. You will pay more for a patent attorney because they have gone to law school and passed the bar. The complexity of the technology matters. More parts and components take more time to describe. So does how “crowded” the field is. If there are lots of other inventions like yours, it will take an attorney more time to distinguish yours. An independent patent search will show this. Location matters, too, as does the experience of the attorney and prestige of the law firm. You will pay more for an experienced attorney in a large city.
Many patent attorneys and agents today offer flexible fee arrangements. Ask about a flat fee, a fee cap, or an installment plan. Given the price point which can be in the thousands of dollars, many attorneys now accept credit cards. If you find an attorney you trust and like, he or she will find a way to work with you.