Do You Have to Pay for a Patent?

A common question that inventors and innovative businesses have is: do you have to pay for a patent? The answer is that it depends on the nature of the patented invention. Inventions that can be patented are, as a rule, unique. Therefore, every case is different. But it is still possible to anticipate the cost of preparing a patent application.

Independent Inventors

Usually, patents from independent inventors are not as expensive to get done. This is because the cost of a patent is largely related to the technological complexity of it, and most independent inventors are not working with the most advanced and sophisticated electronic machinery in the world.

But if your invention is software related, significant technical detail must be included in the patent application. This can make software more costly to patent.

Factors that Affect Cost

The biggest factor when it comes to cost is the complexity of the invention. The more complex the invention, the more text, technical language, and drawings the application will require. Some inventions even require prototypes to be fully understood.

If you want to hire a patent attorney, which is almost always a good idea, that will add an additional cost of several thousand dollars.

Intellectual Property

Intellectual property itself is a valuable asset. Companies relying on intellectual property need strong patent protection, otherwise investors will not be willing to buy into an idea.

Small Businesses

Small businesses often try to limit costs when getting a patent done. This isn’t usually a wise move. Cutting corners when drafting a patent application or conducting a patent search can lead to huge problems down the road.

Pursue a Patent

The first step to pursuing a patent is to conduct a patent search to determine is similar ideas are already out there. Have a search done by a patent professional. And remember, even if an idea isn’t patented, it could still be in use in the public sphere.


Independent inventors may elect to do their own patent search, but they should have a professional search done as well. A professional will know how to thoroughly search for relevant “prior art.”

Patent Application

The cost of a patent application also depends on what purpose you want the patent to have. If your invention is marketable, you may want to invest more into the patent application to ensure that it is strong enough to be sold or licensed later on.

Basic Utility Patent Application

A basic utility patent application fee is $330. A basic utility patent search can be conducted for an additional $540. On top of this, there is a $220 examination fee. After three years, maintenance fees of up roughly $980 must be paid.

Total Cost

The total cost to get a patent done yourself is thus around $1,000, plus the time it takes. A patent attorney or registered patent agent typically costs at least $5,000 for a basic utility patent, and can be much more expensive for more complex inventions.

Provisional Patent Application

Before working on a full patent application, it is almost always a good idea to file a provisional patent application.

What Does This Mean?

Filing a provisional patent application locks in an effective filing date that can be used later. Because the United States is a “first to file” jurisdiction, provisional patents are valuable tools for inventors.

Moreover, as soon as a provisional patent application is confirmed by the Patent Office, inventors can legally use the term “Patent Pending” to discourage anyone else form trying to take the idea.

You Get What You Pay For

As a good rule of thumb when it comes to patents, as with much else in life, you get what you pay for. Filing fees are only a few hundred dollars. The real cost comes in the preparation of the application. A quality patent requires a patent lawyer to draft a thorough description of the invention.

Utility patents typically cost several thousand dollars. However, the more complex the invention, the more expensive it will be to have a lawyer draft the application. Utility patents are also expensive because patent lawyers in the United States have technical degrees in addition to their legal training, making their labor all the more valuable.

A patent attorney can ensure that your application meets the requirements of 35 U.S.C. 112 by fully describing the invention and meeting the “enablement” requirement. An experienced patent attorney will know how to be sufficiently detailed in the description without using language that is too restrictive. This will give you the broadest patent protection possible.

Do it Yourself?

You can try to patent inventions yourself. This will save you money, but it is a lot of work and you risk making a mistake. Even mistakes that don’t seem like a big deal can compromise your patent protection down the road. There are so many potential pitfalls when it comes to patents that patent lawyers actually pay some of the highest malpractice rates in the legal field. Consider that if you decide to get a patent on your own.

Other Kinds of Patents

Before investing in a full patent, many inventors will first file a provisional patent application. In the United States, a full patent application must be filed within one year of the filing of a provisional patent. When this is done, the patent will offer protection dating back to the filing date of the provisional patent.

A provisional patent application must have a description of the invention with as much detail as a regular patent application would. However, a later non-provisional patent can refine and update the description as needed. Therefore, after the filing of a provisional patent and inventor can continue to work on an invention.

Market Opportunities

Before deciding how much you are willing to spend on a patent, you should consider what the market opportunities for your invention are. If you have a lot to gain by patenting your invention, don’t cut corners when it comes to getting patent protection.

Less Revenue

Statistically, roughly 97 percent of patented inventions in the United States generate less revenue than the patent cost to obtain.

Expensive Time

Another cost to be considered is time itself. Filing for a patent is a time-consuming process. Even if you have a patent attorney draft your application and conduct a patent search, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.

Successfully Licensing

To successfully license your invention, you need to be able to describe and sell it to investors. Often, licensing an invention requires that prototypes be build. At the very least, detailed drawings and other illustrations are necessary to fully show companies what the invention is.

Reluctant to Share

Inventors should be hesitant to share their ideas, especially with people they don’t trust. Even when sharing with friends and family that are trustworthy, non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) should be used.

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