Updated October 29, 2020: 

You might be wondering, “how much does it cost for a patent search?” This is a complex process with a wide range of factors. To truly understand the cost, you must first understand the process.

A patent search is the process of searching for issued patents or published patent applications for pre-existing inventions that might be considered “prior art” at the time you file for your patent. Prior art includes anything found in the public domain, whether it's been patented or not, that could determine if an invention can be called “novel.” Someone searching past patents will review drawings or texts of the patents or patent applications to uncover any inventions that could be considered similar to your new invention. They would then use the patent classification system, as well as keyword searching, to discover any relevant patents.

At this point, it is important to understand why a patent search is necessary:

  • You'll avoid wasting money and time developing something that was invented years ago.
  • It helps assess if an invention is patentable prior to investing in the full, costly patent application process.
  • You'll be able to preemptively protect your company from lawsuits stemming from patent infringement.
  • You might uncover things that help you identify gaps in existing technology.
  • The search could reveal details of competitors' products or help you identify potential business partners.
  • Patent searches help you determine your invention's novelty before you give it over to the USPTO for examination, which can take two to three years.
  • You might be able to invalidate a competitor's patent.
  • The process will give you a better sense of your patent's true value before selling the product.
  • You will uncover trends in various areas of technology.
  • You might find patents that have expired or entered the public domain. These inventions can be recreated and sold without having to pay royalties.
  • The search could provide details that help you understand the strength of a competitor's patent portfolio.

Remember, an invention is only patentable when it can be considered non-obvious and novel. These terms are simply legal jargon implying the invention is unique. Understanding prior art will help you differentiate your invention from other similar products.

A patent search's true cost will depend on the technology used and the people conducting the search. If you have a complex invention in an obscure field, you will likely face higher costs. There are, for example, many existing patents that protect each type of RAID system, the process used to store information across multiple computer servers. A person who can tell the difference between each system will expect a substantial fee for their expertise.

Ultimately, the search process might end up costing between $2,000 and $3,000. There are cheaper options available, but the loss of quality makes them not worth considering.

Doing It Yourself

You do have the option to conduct the search yourself, thereby saving thousands. The USPTO maintains a database, allowing users to search exact terminology. Users can also search for names of specific inventors or assignees.

However, searching patents alone can be challenging. You'll run into various invention elements described in a variety of ways. You could come across light bulbs that are simply described as tools for creating light. Thinking of each possible term will require a close familiarity with the jargon for your specific patent.

You might also run into several dead ends. You search terms could bring up many patents irrelevant to your invention. On the other hand, your keywords could pull up no information. To combat this problem, you might need to enter the names of your competition into the field for “assignee” or search the name of your competitor's chief technology officer. This is a proven strategy when a field is dominated by just a few companies. Using a more targeted searching strategy will help save money and time.

Doing Nothing

You can also forgo conducting a search altogether. The USPTO will perform a search during the application review process. The patent office will present search results to inventors if it has an objection with the application or rejects it. While this might seem more cost-effective than searching first, it is risky. You'll still have to pay the full cost of the application and won't be able to sufficiently differentiate your invention from other patents. At the minimum, you must pay the full cost of applying for a patent, which is between $190 and $380.

Remember, just because you file the patent doesn't mean you're guaranteed to get it issued.

Obtaining Patent Cost

It is difficult to properly estimate a patent's full costs. So much of the price will depend on the relevant technology. To patent something, you must be able to prove that you've developed a truly unique invention when compared to prior art. There will always be challenges when describing why your invention is distinct, and laws on the matter are becoming more complex every day.

Getting the patent itself has actually gotten easier, but the cost has increased. Ultimately, you get what you pay for. You might want to begin by discussing what might influence your expected costs for preparing and filing your patent. The complexity and type of invention are factors you must account for in your application process. Most inventors believe they've invented something comparatively simple and easy to explain, which will give them a false sense of how long the process will take and how much it could cost. Ultimately, the process of applying for a patent is lengthy and complex.

Reviewing recent patents along the lines of your invention will show how much text and art goes into an application and how dense the application language is. Most inventions of people working on their own are simple. If you've invented a sophisticated piece of electronic equipment, it will be more complex.

Software is usually the most complex invention to patent because courts have recently begun requiring massive amounts of detail in patent applications. To make sure you receive your patent at the end of the process, you should file a nonprovisional patent application. However, in a situation where complexity is a factor, cost estimates will be less useful.

Generally, the filing fees with the government will be at least $730 for a smaller entity (usually an independent inventor or a small business). For the smallest entities, the fee is usually still at least $400. The filing fees will be higher based on how many claims your application contains. You'll also likely need professional drawings done, which will increase the cost from $300 to $500 for a complete set.

In the below example of the cost of securing a patent, the estimates represent the costs incurred in a high-quality patent application filed with the intention of getting strong, meaningful patent protection.

Example: A computer-implemented method to facilitate certain functionality over the internet

  • Patent search and attorney advice: $2,500 to $3,000
  • Preparation and filing of provisional patent application: $6,000
  • USPTO filing fee for provisional patent application: $130 for a small entity
  • Non-provisional patent application following provisional application: $10,000 to $12,000
  • USPTO filing fee for non-provisional patent application: $800 to $1,250 for a small entity
  • Professional drawings for non-provisional application: $500
  • Total cost of filing a non-provisional patent application: $19,930 to $22,880 (skipping the provisional patent application will reduce the cost by $130)

The costs of applying for a patent can add up quickly. There will also be post-filing costs after the patent examiner begins to examine your application. Add another $5,000 to $7,500 to your budget to take into account prosecution and issuance fees to the USPTO.

Considering the high costs of securing a patent, some inventors either do it themselves, give up on their projects, or hire deep-discount patent application service providers, many of whom are not qualified patent agents or attorneys. When it comes to patent service providers, you will get what you pay for, so exercise extra caution if you decide to work with a deep-discount provider.

What's the Damage?

The final cost will also depend on the opportunities within the market and what you intend to do with the patent. If there are real opportunities for your invention, you might want to up your spending, even on a relatively simple invention, to make sure it has enough protection in the future. You can find attorneys willing to write a cheap patent for computer software, but that patent would be far weaker than a more expensive one. To acquire a strong patent, you'll need more claims and more detailed technical disclosure, explaining every possible alternative, option, variation, and embodiment possible for your invention.

The stronger the patent, the more time your attorney will need. This means they'll spend more time working with a patent examiner helping ensure the patent gets issued. Some companies have nothing but their intellectual property (IP) keeping them afloat. They would need to spend more on each application. Without full protection for their IP, they likely won't be able to secure investor funding. If there's no funding, there's no momentum for the company.

Again, it can be tempting to try to cut corners on this costly process, especially if you're an independent inventor or a small business. Trying to skip the patent search is a natural line of thought. However, this is almost always a bad idea. In fact, most lawyers won't represent you in the patent process if you skip the patent search unless you sign a document explaining all the risks inherent with skipping the search. You'll have to agree that you have been advised against moving forward without first doing a full patent search.

Micky Minhas, Chief Patent Counsel for Microsoft, once said his company does prior art searches for every case, and they still come across unanticipated art. The patent search process is crucial to your application because it gives you a sense of how practical your pursuit of this patent is in the first place.

There Are No Guarantees

A patent search's goal is to reach a confidence level of at least 80 percent. Going higher than that would make the cost higher than is realistic. Therefore, the search is limited to what is reasonable based on the invention's assumed value.

Some prior art won't be uncovered by a search because there are laws in place keeping it secret if the patent was first filed within 18 months of your application. In this case, you could throw away thousands of dollars trying to reach 100 percent confidence and never get there. This is why a reasonable yet thorough search for prior art makes the most sense. If you don't know what's in that secret prior art, there's no way you could distinguish your invention from it anyway. By that same token, if you do not search for prior art, you're essentially flying blind trying to defend your invention's unique qualities.

It makes sense to start with a preliminary search on your own, but you should later add a professional searcher who works alongside a patent attorney. This individual will be able to go deeper than you could. A professional patent searcher working in conjunction with an attorney will usually cost from $1,000 to $3,000. This depends on how much written analysis you need, how complex your invention is, and how much prior art must be considered in the application. While there are many costly aspects of filing a patent application, hiring a top-notch patent searcher and getting an excellent written analysis are easily your best investments.

A professional patent search usually takes about five business days, beginning from the time all the information needed for the search is received. Other than the search fees, you might also have to pay an additional cost to get printed copies of the search results.

If you are running a business that needs to look for patent data frequently, such as a corporation with an R&D department for developing products, it is a good idea to subscribe to advanced patent-searching tools instead of paying a separate fee each time you perform a new search.

Even if the USPTO approves your application and grants you a patent after the examination, the evaluation process might not be as extensive as a professional patent search service. As such, you will be vulnerable to an infringement lawsuit if the holder of another patent notices a conflict. The cost of hiring a professional patent searcher is worth it because it can help you avoid lawsuits. If professional search results show that your invention is novel, you should file your patent application immediately instead of letting the search go to waste.

You might want to consider preparing your patent application ahead of time so it will be ready for submission as soon as you receive the patent search results. The USPTO gets over a thousand patent applications every day, so do not let another person or company patent your product or idea before you do.

If you still find yourself asking “how much does it cost for a patent search,” you can post your legal need (or post your job) on UpCounsel's 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, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.