How Much Does it Cost for a Patent Search?

You’ve come up with a revolutionary invention, and now you want to apply for a patent. However, you don’t know if any other patents may potentially infringe on your idea. In this situation, it’s important to run a patent search. You may be asking yourself “how much does it cost for a patent search?” This is a complex process with a wide range of factors. In order to truly understand the cost, you must first understand the process.

What is a Patent Search?

The process of searching for issued patents or published patent applications for preexisting inventions which may be considered “prior art” references at the time you file for your patent is known as a patent search. Anything found in the public domain, whether it’s been patented or not, which could determine if an invention can be called “novel” is considered prior art. Someone searching past patents will review drawings or texts of the patents or patent applications in order to uncover any inventions which could be considered similar to your new invention. They would then utilize the patent classification system, as well as utilizing keyword searching, in order to discover any patents that may be relevant.

Why Do a Patent Search?

At this point, it is important to understand why a patent search is necessary. Here are a few key points to remember:

  • You’ll avoid wasting money and time on developing something that was actually 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 the danger of lawsuits stemming from patent infringement.
  • During the search, you may uncover things that help you identify gaps in existing technology.
  • The search could discover details of competitors’ products or help you identify potential business partners.
  • Patent searches help ascertain the exact novelty of your invention before you give it over to the USPTO for examination, which can take 2-3 years.
  • You may even be able to invalidate the patent of a competitor.
  • The process will give you a better sense of the true value of your patent prior to actually selling the product.
  • You will uncover trends in various areas of technology.
  • There may be patents that have expired or entered the public domain. These inventions can then actually be recreated and sold without having to pay royalties.
  • A patent search may provide information to assess the strength of a company’s patent portfolio. The search could provide detail 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 which means 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 which protect each type of RAID system, the process utilized 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 may end up costing between $2,000 and $3,000. There are cheaper options available, but the loss in quality makes them not even worth considering.

Doing It Yourself

You do have the option to conduct the search yourself, thereby saving thousands. There is a database maintained by the USPTO, allowing users to key in exact terminology. The database can also be searched by typing in names of specific inventors or assignees.

However, searching patents alone presents a problem. You’ll run into various invention elements which are described in a wide variety of ways. You could come across light bulbs which are simply explained as a tool for creating light. Thinking of each possible term will require a close familiarity with the jargon for your specific patent.

You may also run into several dead ends. There could be so many patents found by your search terms which are irrelevant to your invention. On the other hand, your keywords could simply pull up no information whatsoever. To combat this problem, you may 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 on cost and wasted time.

Just Do Nothing

You can also forgo conducting a search altogether. Alternatively, you could just not conduct a search at all. A search will be performed by the USPTO during the application review process. Some results of the search get presented to inventors if the patent office has an objection with the application, or if they reject it. While this may seem more cost effective, it is risky. You’ll still have to pay the full cost of the application, and won’t have the ability to sufficiently differentiate your invention from other patents.

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 the full costs of a patent. So much of the price will depend on the relevant technology. You must understand, in order 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 over the last few years, but the cost has increased. Ultimately, you get exactly what you pay for. You may want to begin by discussing what might influence your expected costs for preparing and filing your patent. The complexity, what type of invention it is, these are factors that must be accounted for in your application process. Most inventors believe that they’ve invented something comparatively simple and easy to explain, which will give them a false sense of just how long the process will take, and how much it could cost. Ultimately, any inventor should understand that the process of applying for a patent is lengthy and complex.

Reviewing recent patents along the lines of your invention will show just how much text and art goes into an application, and how truly dense the language is in the application itself. Most inventions of inventors working on their own fall on the simpler side, but if you’ve invented a sophisticated piece of electronic equipment, it will always be more complex.

Software is usually the most complex invention to patent because courts have begun requiring massive amounts of detail in patent applications in recent years. To ensure that you receive your patent at the end of the process, a nonprovisional patent application will be mandatory. However, in a situation where complexity is such a factor, estimates of cost will be less useful.

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

What’s the damage?

The final cost will also depend on what opportunities there are within the market, and what exactly you intend to do with the patent. If there are real opportunities for your invention, you may want to up your spending, even on a relatively simple invention, to ensure that it has enough protection in the future. There would certainly be 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 a higher number of claims and a greater focus on providing detailed technical disclosure, explaining every possible alternative, option, variation, and different embodiment possible.

The stronger the patent, the more time your attorney will need. This naturally means they’ll spend more time working with a patent examiner helping to ensure the patent actually gets issued. Some companies have nothing but their intellectual property keeping them afloat. They would absolutely need to spend more on each application. Without full protection for their IP, no investor would be willing to fund the company’s ventures. If there’s no funding, there’s no momentum for the company.

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

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

There are No Guarantees

A patent search’s goal is to obtain a level of confidence of at least 80 percent. Going higher than that would extend the cost higher than is realistic. Therefore, the search is limited to what is reasonable based on the assumed value of that particular invention. Some prior art won’t ever 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 attempting to reach 100 percent confidence, and never get there. This is why a reasonable yet thorough process of searching for prior art usually makes the most sense. If you don’t know what’s in that secret prior art, there’s no possible way you could distinguish your invention from it anyway. However, by that same token, if you do not search at all you’re essentially flying blind trying to defend your invention’s unique qualities.

It makes sense for an inventor to start with a preliminary search on their own, but you should then add a professional searcher who works alongside a patent attorney. They will be able to go deeper than you ever could on your own. A professional patent searcher working in conjunction with an attorney writing the opinion will usually fall in the range of $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 acquiring excellent written analysis are easily the best investments of the whole process.

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, Stripe, and Twilio.