Can I File a Patent Without an Attorney?

Inventors might ask, “Can I file a patent without an attorney,” or “Why would you want to file a patent without an attorney?” For one, the cost can be extreme. There are certainly advantages to using a legal advisor, and many advantages to completing the process alone. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each process.

Let’s say you’ve come up with an idea for an invention or product. Let’s say that you’ve developed the “next big thing.” Your first instinct might be to look for legal representation to help with your patent application. However, you don’t actually need a lawyer. You actually have everything you need to cut all those legal costs and apply yourself. Today, we’ll show you how to acquire a patent for your next big idea without the need to contact a lawyer.

Filing a Patent without the help of an Attorney

Many people such as you have invented something, and then worked their way through the patent system without help.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (also referred to as the USPTO) actually requires examiners to assist anyone who comes in to apply for a patent whether or not they have a lawyer

In order to complete your patent application, you simply must be able to do two things:

  • Ensure that the invention or idea actually meets all the qualifications for a patent.
  • Be able to describe every aspect of the invention in detail

You’ll notice neither of these require a law degree. Obviously, some of the steps in this process are more difficult than others. However, with a step-by-step approach, that patent will be yours before you know it.

The Steps to Properly Filing a Patent Application

Here's a quick look at the basic steps you need to take before filing a patent application. Now, let’s take a deeper look at the preliminary process that leads up to actually creating your patent application. Again, there’s not a single step that demands legal counsel. You won’t go in front of a court or judge to justify your need for a patent. Yes, there are rules and processes to follow, but they are as simple as following a recipe for a nice casserole.

1. Make a Detailed Record of Your Invention

  • Detail the full process in a hard copy such as a notebook or computer file.
  • Explain and detail each piece and all changes made to the invention. This includes your inspiration for designing it in the first place.
  • Depending on the invention, you may also want to build and test a prototype. Document all of these efforts.
  • Sign and date every entry and ask two trustworthy witnesses to sign as well.

2. Ensure that Your Invention Qualifies for Patent Protection

  • No office will issue a full patent on nothing but an idea.
  • You must explain how your invention works
  • You have to be able to prove that the invention is new.
  • You cannot list your invention for sale prior to applying for the patent, nor can the invention be common knowledge.

Be Thorough in Your Patent Search

To confirm that you’ve created a new invention, you’ll have to research any previous advances in your chosen field of study. This process will require you to search patents both in the U.S. and abroad, along with any technical or scientific journals, to uncover any inventions that could be potentially related. Naturally, this can be a lengthy process, but with practice it will get faster.

After trying by yourself, you may decide that professional help would be useful. However, you are the person with the most knowledge about this new invention; therefore, you are automatically the most qualified to lead the investigation. The Internet is a great starting point, but consider a trip to a nearby Patent and Trademark Depository Library. Inside you’ll find records of previous patents, as well as helpful staff.

During your search, it is perfectly natural to uncover similar inventions. However, you should plan for this and make sure that your application explains how this new invention either improves on old ideas, or solves a totally different problem.

Prepare and File an Application With the USPTO

As you begin to file your patent with the USPTO, you’ll be given a choice between filing a “regular patent application” (or RPA) or a more simplified “provisional patent application” (called a PPA). The PPA isn’t actually a true patent application. It just lets you place a “patent pending” status on your invention and requires far less work or investment as the standard application. In order to file a proper PPA, you’ll just need to pay a small fee which varies depending on the size of your company (ranging from $65 to $260), provide a description of your invention in detail, explain how it will be made and used, and create a rough sketch of the design. Once this is done, you’ll have a year to file a proper RPA. If that year expires, you lose the pending status.

Drafting a Conditional Apparent Application

As we said before, the provisional patent application is a dramatically easier process than the traditional form. It is typically under 10 pages long and doesn’t require nearly as formal a writing style. As long as your document fully explains how the invention is made and used, the only precedent you’ll need to defend can come from articles in a technical or academic journal. You can also use less formal drawings when detailing your invention in a PPA. If you want a more professional image, you do have the option of hiring someone to who creates patent drafts. These services usually run less than a hundred dollars for a single drawing. It is up to you to decide if you’d rather cut costs and complete the process yourself, or utilize the expertise and counsel of a professional.

Intrepid Inventors Who Got Patents Without Lawyers

Many people have been able to accomplish their patent filing without the help of an attorney. Here are two examples:

John Stewart of Orlando, Florida

  • Left the phone company AT&T in 1988 and has remained busy filing patents ever since.
  • Out of the 21 patent applications he’s filed, 17 have already received approval.
  • The patented inventions he’s developed include a device to help repair sidewalks that are uneven, exercise equipment that uses hydraulics, a machine that adjusts volleyball nets, and an electric shaver.
  • John chose to file these patents on his own based purely on economics. If he had hired legal counsel for each one, he’d already be facing legal fees well over $100,000.
  • After repeating the process multiple times, he remarked that he felt no disadvantage doing it alone.
  • He said that each patent examiner was surprisingly cooperative, though not all were especially competent.

Carol Randall of Los Angeles, California

  • Carol described herself as just “a housewife with a head filled with ideas.” She stated that the experience of filing a patent by herself was a great one.
  • Her patent was for a type of ear clip that helped keep your ears from being burned by chemicals found in hair relaxers or hot combs.
  • Her experience dealing with the folks at the USPTO was positive. Once they knew that her plan was to handle every aspect of the process alone, they were overwhelmingly helpful.
  • One of the examiners even rewrote a portion of a claim so that it would make a bigger impact.
  • She had actually used a lawyer to file a patent once before, but decided to go it alone this time because the legal fees were so high.

Doing It Yourself

It’s possible to file your own provisional patent application (PPA) and your own regular patent application. Ultimately, as evidenced above, anyone can file a patent on their own, either a PPA or RPA. Naturally, it will be far easier to complete a PPA without assistance. You’ll simply need to ensure that the PPA fully details exactly how to use and make the invention itself.

Should you decide to take on the process alone, you’ll need three key resources at your disposal:

Time

The process takes many hours of research and reading (you have to check for pre-existing inventions) and considerable time to write and create drawings. This is a lengthy process. From the hours of reading and research needed to search for inventions that already exist to the massive commitment of writing the explanations and actually drawing the product, you’ll certainly stay busy.

On average, you’ll spend several hundred hours completing a single application.

Writing skill

Because you have to explain everything so thoroughly, you have to be able to clearly explain how the invention works in writing. You’ll also have to do so in archaic terminology.

The skills of a project manager

This is a process with many moving parts, deadlines, and complex rules. You must be able to keep everything on track at all times. As an example, the patent application must be filed within a year of your first official public sale.

Lawyer to File a Patent

As you begin the process of filing your patent, we should detail some of the terms you’ll need to know should you decide to include a lawyer in the process down the road.

Here are some terms you’ll likely hear throughout the process:

  • Patent agent - a non-attorney with certifications allowing them to prepare and/or prosecute your patent applications.
  • Patent attorney – a lawyer who is certified to prepare and prosecute applications as well as perform legal tasks.
  • Prosecution - the process by which an inventor or patent agent guides the application through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
  • Provisional patent application (PPA) - a short and informal document with text and drawings describing how an invention is made and used. It also establishes an effective filing date for an invention and will enable an applicant to use the term patent pending on the invention.

Remember that you’ll only have a year to file the RPA, or your PPA will expire.

Do You Think You Should Hire a Patent Attorney?

As we stated before, any inventor can prepare their own full application or PPA. Naturally, completing this process without the help of legal counsel can save thousands of dollars. However, while the savings can be massive, this is still a complicated process. Many inventors will ultimately decide to make use of specialists with patent certifications who have a background in science or technology. This is mainly because they are concerned about fully protecting their rights to their invention. The process of prosecution can be incredibly complex, demands extensive research, and has an archaic application process.

Patent Attorneys and Agents

Patenting an invention requires extensive knowledge of how that invention functions. In order for a lawyer or agent to properly represent the inventor, they must be able to understand the technical terminology used to explain the invention. This is why the USPTO create a process for certifying patent agents and attorneys. These agents are not actually able to practice law in the traditional sense; they are only acting as agents for the patent process.

Specifically, let’s say you hired a patent agent. They would prepare and file your application, respond to the letters from examiners representing the Patent and Trademark Office, as well as revise the application itself again and again. However, that agent will not be allowed to provide any advice on legal matters that may arise as a result of patenting the invention. These could include rights issues in a divorce, detailing your will, or other legal matters that may arise. They are simply there to provide the roadmap to your new patent.

If you need help with filing a patent, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel’s legal marketplace. Upcounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Stripe, and Twilio.