How much does a patent application cost?

This is often the first question we get from prospective clients.

There is no question that writing and filing a patent application – properly – is expensive.  Anyone that explores the possibility of seeking patent protection should be realistic about the timelines and the cost.  The preparation and filing of a patent application in one country is only the first step.  Additional countries will mean additional expense, and each country will (eventually) examine the application and raise objections.  Dealing with those objections will also add expense.  And many countries require the payment of maintenance fees to keep an application alive every year.  All this being said, there are steps that can be taken to ensure you are getting value for your money.

First, beware the cheapest option.  There are some unscrupulous companies that purport to offer to prepare and file a provisional application and promote your invention for a package price that might seem too good to be true.  A provisional application (see below) is suitable in some situations, but if done poorly it may be worthless.

Also beware the most expensive option.  Price does not always equate to value.  There are some firms whose economics are designed to service large companies engaged in large corporate deals or bet-the-company litigation.  The lawyers at those firms typically have high billing rates, high annual targets they must bill, and, in some cases, little experience in actually drafting and prosecuting applications.

When done correctly by a lawyer with extensive experience successfully and efficiently preparing and prosecuting patent applications, you can expect the cost of preparing and filing an original US patent application to be approximately $10,000.  In some cases, it may be more or less than this amount, depending on the complexity of the technology and the state of your initial written descriptions and drawings.  In all cases, you should expect the patent lawyer to meet with you to review the invention with you and to provide you with a fixed fee quote.

I have heard I can file a provisional cheaply – is that true?

A provisional application (a US concept) differs from a regular application in that it has a lower filing fee, it is never examined, and it expires a year after filing.  If you file a provisional, you need to file a proper non-provisional application within one year after filing the provisional in order to seek actual patent protection.  If the provisional has not been prepared correctly and does not adequately describe your invention and its variations/modifications, then your eventual non-provisional patent application claims may not be supported by the provisional and you may not be entitled to the provisional filing date.  This can be fatal to the validity of your eventual patent claims.  Accordingly, provisionals should be handled with care.

That being said, provisional applications are very useful in certain circumstances.  For example, you may consider a provisional if:

  1. You have an urgent need to disclose the invention or a product embodying the invention and have too little time available to prepare the full non-provisional application; or
  2. You are in the midst of development and want to ensure you protect what you have created so far so that you can speak freely to investors, collaborators, or potential customers, but you expect there will be further changes/refinements in the next twelve months.

If you have a solid written description and drawings, the amount of work required of your patent lawyer may be drastically reduced if you are simply seeking provisional protection with the intention of preparing a proper non-provisional in the near future.  This can mean the provisional will save money – but only in the short term, not in the long term.

What can I do to reduce the cost?

There are a few things that a prospective patent applicant can do to reduce the cost:

  1. Look at granted patents in your subject matter area.  This will help you understand the basic structure of a patent application and what level of detail is contained in the applications.  When preparing written materials for your patent lawyer, these are the kinds of details that may be required.
  2. If you have identified any patents or other publications that look like they are close to your invention, review them carefully and bring them to the attention of your patent lawyer.  Your lawyer will want to know about them so he or she can determine whether there is anything new about your invention or whether it is all described in earlier patents (and because he or she has to disclose them to the patent office if you file).  You can help by reviewing the earlier patents and noting anything about your invention that is different and why that difference is significant in the functioning of your invention.
  3. Think carefully about why you want to seek patent protection and discuss it with your patent lawyer.  Knowing your objectives and the role of patent protection in your business model will help your patent lawyer guide you when making decisions about what to claim, how to claim, and where to file.

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