If you are a small business owner who is wondering how much getting a patent costs, you have come to the right place. There are many online sites like LegalZoom advertising patent filing services for the nice and low price of $200 or so. The problem is, these kinds of patent filings rarely provide you legitimate protection. To do that, you will need to hire a good patent lawyer who knows the system and has had lots of experience.
Here are some basic pricing estimates for how much a patent costs:
- $5,000 – The absolute lowest you should expect to pay if you want a quality patent
- $15,000+ – How much you should expect to pay if you want a complex patent, such as a patent for complicated software or satellite technology of some kind
- $400-$500 – The amount you should expect to pay a good patent lawyer per hour
A Note on the Poor Man’s Patent
You might have heard about the “Poor Man’s Patent,” which basically involved sending yourself a letter with your idea/product in it so that you could prove original ownership at a later date. However, due to legal changes in patent law, this method is now obsolete (more on this below in “Patent Law is Always Changing” section).
How To Determine How Much Your Patent Will Cost
Considering that each and every patent is unique, it is hard to nail down specific costs. However, it is possible to make some general estimates based on the kind of product/idea you are patenting, and the complexity of its design.
Here’s a table taken from IPwatchdog.com that gives some general estimates concerning patent complexity and cost. The cost estimates in the table are consistent with my research and on-par with prices quoted by professionals I talked to.
It is important to keep in mind, that these are fees related to the filing a patent. In many cases, it is necessary for a patent attorney to negotiate with the patent office after the filing is complete, which can be very costly, at times pushing total fees to $100,000 or more.
Type of Invention
electric switch; coat hanger; paper clip; diapers; earmuffs; ice cube tray
$5,000 - $7,000
board game; umbrella; retractable dog leash; belt clip for cell phone;
$7,000 - $9,000
power hand tool; lawn mower; camera; cell phone; microwave oven
$9,000 - $10,000
ride on lawn mower; simple RFID devices; basic solar concentrator
$10,000 - $12,500
shock absorbing prosthetic device; basic to moderate software / systems; business methods
$12,500 - $15,000
MRI scanner; PCR; telecommunication networking systems; complex software / systems; satellite technologies
Types of Patent Costs
When you go through the patent filing process, there are both major and minor costs. We explain each below.
Minor costs: Filing Fees
The actual filing fee that is paid to the USPTO is actually the cheap part of the patent process, rarely exceeding $500 or so. In many cases, filing fees are in the $200-$300 range. The fact that the filing fee is so cheap, often tempts business owners to try to file patents themselves or use some cheap service. In most cases, this is just a recipe for filing a useless and ineffective patent, not to mention wasting $300-$500 in the process.
Major Costs: Attorney Fees
The major cost for patent filing is attorney fees. A good patent attorney will cost you between $300-$500 an hour. That is quite a chunk of change. However, with patent procedure and law becoming more and more complicated, there is a reason the costs are so high. Not only do you have to pay an attorney to go through the initial patent filing process, but there is often the need to pay for additional negotiations with the patent office, which really adds up (more on this below).
You Get What You Pay For
Because patents are so expensive, you might be tempted to try to go with a cheaper option, such as an online legal site or cheap attorney. The problem is, you really do get what you pay for. If you get a patent on the cheap, the odds are it will not provide adequate legal protection. In order to get full protection, you have to pay.
Why LegalZoom and Other Online Sites Do Not Cut It
For the small business owner, online sites like LegalZoom that advertise patent filing services for $200-$500 are attractive. The problem is, that such patents do not actually protect you. With these services, you are basically paying to have the patent filed correctly. However, what really matters when filing a patent, is the creation and drafting process. Each individual patent has to be worded and presented differently, in order to give it the best chance for success. If it is not drafted correctly, it will either not be accepted or not actually provide the security desired.
Here are some other reasons to avoid online patent sites:
- They rarely do in-depth enough patent checks to see if your idea/product is truly original/viable
- You may actually end up being sued by somebody else
Online patent sites do not take hours pouring over your document to make sure it is worded in such a way as to ensure that you are not infringing on somebody else’s patent. If you are, you may actually end up paying legal fees to defend yourself in court.
- US Patent Law is Getting More Complicated
As patent law gets more and more complicated, sites such as Legal Zoom become less and less reliable to provide legal protection.
Patent Law is always Changing: Example: “Poor Man’s” Method Obsolete
Patent law is changing and getting more and more complicated, as mentioned above.
Here’s one example:
As of May of 2013, the so called “Poor Man’s” method of patenting is obsolete. People used to write down original ideas or product designs in a letter, mail it to themselves, and then leave it unopened. The idea was that if another identical product or idea came along, the owner could produce the unopened letter to prove an earlier date of origin and win back their rights.
However, patent law is no longer based on a first-to-invent system. In May of 2013, it changed to a first-to-file system. Who thinks up something first no longer matters. It is all about who files first.
Why Hire an Attorney For Your Patent?
Up to this point, we have advised you to get a patent attorney without necessarily telling you why it is so important.
Here are the reasons that hiring a patent attorney is so necessary:
- Patent Attorneys Will Know the In’s and Out’s of Patent Law
As explained above, patent law is getting more complex. An experienced patent attorney will not only know patent law inside-and-out, but will also know how your specific patent application needs to be tweaked to take best advantage of the most recent legal changes.
- Patent Attorneys conduct in-depth patent searches and assessments
When people think of patent searches, they think of making sure that there is no product/idea exactly like theirs. This is one purpose of a patent search. But, it is also important to check patents similar to yours to ensure that your patent will not require another patent to function.
Office chair example:
Let’s say someone creates an idea for an office chair with a unique headrest. Their patent is unique enough to stand on its own. However, to actually manufacture the chair, you will need to pay a patent fee to whoever owns the basic office chair patent. In other words, your patent requires another patent to function.
Patent attorneys have the knowledge and experience to conduct a thorough patent search, one that makes sure not only that no patent is exactly like yours, but also assesses what other patents yours might require to function and how much that might cost you.
- Patent Attorneys Know What Vocabulary To Use
The devil can be in the language when it comes to patent applications. A patent can mean two completely different things, if even several words or phrases are different. This is why it is extremely important to have the assistance of a patent attorney who knows patent-speak and can utilize it to your best advantage.
- Patent Attorneys Will Negotiate For You
Often, the patent office tries to tweak your patent to be extremely specific, in order to leave room for other patents, thereby weakening your overall patent protection.
Let’s say you are trying to patent soap-on-a-rope. Instead of just giving you a patent for all soap-on-a-rope products, the patent office will try to give you a patent for all soap-on-a-rope that is in the shape of a tree. In other words, they try to make your patent specific enough that other patents can still be filed.
An experienced patent attorney knows where to look for these changes, how to address them, and will negotiate on your behalf with the patent office to make sure you get the most extensive patent possible.
The Bottom Line
When all is said and done, getting a quality patent is going to cost you. For the average small business owner, the effort and expense necessary to get a patent often outweighs the reward. Even if you manage to obtain a good patent, it has to make you an exorbitant amount of money to offset the legal fees you will have to pay to sue someone that tries to steal it.
The point is, think long and hard before you pursue a patent, to make sure it is really a good step for your small business. For more on deciding whether or not filing a patent is actually necessary for your business, check out our Patents and Trademarks article.
Don't forget to check out LegalZoom for your online legal service needs.