Updated November 25, 2020:

What Is a Patent?

A patent is a set of exclusive rights governed by a state and granted to an inventor for a set period of time in exchange for the disclosure of the creation. If you have patented an invention, you have developed something special and different.

What Is an Invention?

An invention is a concept or object that is newly created and never made before. However, "What is an invention?" is truly a complicated question today. Another question emerges. What truly makes a thing unique or different from what came before it? The Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals, as well as the Patent and Trademark Office, have developed a specific language to define what makes up a genuine invention.

Patent Types

Utility Patent

  • This is the most used type of patent for everyday products such as electrical appliances, as well as innovative systems or strategies.
  • It is still complex. If your work is simple, consider first a different patent type.
  • Basic patent search fees are about $540, and there is a $220 examination fee.
  • Maintenance fees are $980 after three years.

Design Patent

  • A design patent protects the overall appearance of a creation.
  • It corresponds to fashion items, art, medical devices, websites, computer systems, and other goods.
  • Protection is only granted for the physical design, not for the concept or theory. Remember that only the appearance is covered.
  • Practical or utilitarian intentions for the item require another patent type.
  • The paperwork for the application is not as long as for other patent types, consisting of a few pages of documentation and some drawings, given its superficial nature. A utility patent would be much more thorough.

Intellectual Property Patent

  • Intellectual property patents are quite expensive because they are so thorough and cover all theoretical applications of the concept.
  • Strong protection is important to make sure the patent is durable, as this helps secure funding from investors.


  • Developing a name for your product is helpful for marketing.
  • Names should be patented when they are available. This makes marketing much easier.
  • Do market research to choose a proper name.
  • After the trademark is complete, use the specific name you generated when communicating about the invention. As investors acclimatize to the name, they see it as inherently worthy.
  • A trademark name helps protect you from concept theft by competitors.
  • Trademark law applies the first in use principal and first in right. Filing for the name declares its use—but so does actually employing the trademark casually. In some U.S. states, you need to use the trademark before registering it; federally, it&'s required that you use it in interstate business before registration.
  • Trademarks must be expressed via a ™ or ® -- in accordance with state law.
  • In some regions, trademarks are employed simply by using the symbol ™ on a product.
  • To be on the safe side, register yours with the U.S. Patent and Trademark office and overseas. It takes about a year. Upon a completed registration, use ®.

Factors That Influence the Cost of a Patent

  • Degree of searching for previous patents
  • Hiring an attorney vs. doing it yourself
  • The complexity of your invention
  • The quality of your product
  • Long-term Costs

Searching Previous Patents

Before moving ahead to secure a patent for your creation, research whether or not it has already been patented. Even if a product has not yet been manufactured, it may still be patented somewhere.

Additionally, since no two inventions are identical, you also need to check if there are patents for similar or related items. It is imperative that you do your search before you spend time or money on your idea.

If, upon searching, you come across many applications in your category then you are working in a "crowded field of invention." You need to tread carefully, gauging carefully the differences between your own work and that of someone else. A lawyer may need to help with this if the potential distinctions are subtle and there are many similar items.

Further, to argue that your work is subtly unique, you must prepare a thorough, high-quality, well well-researched patent application.

If you don&'t feel that you have the time to do a comprehensive search, it is possible to hire someone. To garner a professional parent search with a clear opinion costs between $1,000 and $3,000. The amount depends on how much analysis you need, the level of sophistication of the creation, and the number of patents claimed which need to be reviewed.

Before you spend this money, consider the following:

  • When you pay for such a search, you must accept that it may turn over the bad news that your idea has already been patented.
  • Any search, even a professional one, cannot deliver an iron-clad promise that a patent for your creation does not already exist. The goal is to get the best information you can with roughly 80% certainty. It is never possible to get access to all historical or regional records or to request claims from all people. To seek out a higher certainty could cost thousands of more dollars. To be definite may take millions.
  • It may not even be possible to cover all the bases since some patents may be kept secret especially those filed in the last 18 months. Therefore, make sure your search is reasonable relative to the expected value of your idea. A good search, however, helps you make good decisions, and if you do go ahead with the patent, your application will likely be made stronger by it.

If you are unsure whether to conduct the search on your own or to hire a professional, consider this. You may certainly search first on your own. But a top-notch patent seeker working for a patent lawyer is likely to turn over many more potential applications you would not find yourself.

In that sense, spending $1,000 to $3,000 on this service could very well be the smartest move. Can you imagine if you overlooked a recorded patent, then spent thousands more dollars and weeks or even months of your time, only to learn your invention is already patented?

Attorney Fees vs. Doing it Yourself

As always, lawyer fees fluctuate, but to get a general sense of what to expect when seeking guidance from a patent lawyer, here are some examples. First, for a very simple and straightforward instrument, like a paper clip or kitchen utensil, expect a cost of $5,000 to $7,000, which covers the paperwork and writing as well as the filing.

For something like an umbrella, a child&'s game, or a unique kind of toothbrush, the range would be $7,000 to $8,500. An electronic device would be $8,500 to $10,000. A cell phone would be $10,000 to $12,000. A medical device used in the home, such as a prosthetic instrument might be $12,000 to $14,000. A major instrument like a satellite or a networking system, $14,000 to $16,000. Anything categorized as software would be $16,000 or more.

When you consider, again, that the cost increases with the number of patents reviewed as well as the complexity of the item, these measurements are logically founded.

One factor that may raise the price further is if you need to seek out broader protection in your patent. Also, bear in mind that some patent lawyers have further training beyond what other lawyers have. They may also have a technical degree, and in tech fields, they may have a PhD.

Sometimes, they oversee many highly trained staff, such as scientists or technicians, or illustrators, to make sure all is complete. Your fees must cover all that labour, and, as with any instance when you hire a lawyer, you are paying for his time. You are usually billed at an hourly rate.

In addition to preparing and filing a patent, it&'s possible you'll need a lawyer to negotiate with a patent office. Again, lawyer&'s fees can be hefty. An email from a lawyer to such an office may cost more than $1,000, and you may need many of them. If your application goes to appeal, you'll need to respond via the internal review board at the parent office or court.

There will, of course, be other fees to consider beyond the legal costs. These include:

  • Revising a patent
  • Prosecution
  • Issuing the parent
  • Maintaining the patent
  • The cost to file a patent is usually only about $700. It's around $400 for small businesses and about a quarter of that for individuals. These prices may increase by $300 to $500 if the file has more claims or illustrations.

The good news is that there are steps you can take to try to stay within your budget. Still, you're going to need significant funds. Also, keep in mind that no matter what you create, you're likely to have expenses beyond the basics. When it comes to inventions and the law, even seemingly straightforward items can have unexpected complexities.

  • For a computer hardware product
    • Patent search - $2,500 to $3,000
    • Provisional patent application - $6,000
    • Filing fee for a small entity - $130
    • Non-provisional application - $10,000 to $12,000 with a filling fee of $800 to $1,250
    • Illustrations - $500
    • Total - $20,000
  • For an electronics item
    • Patent search with opinion - $1,750
    • Provisional patent application prepared and filed - $2,500
    • Filing fee for a small entity - $130
    • Non-provisional application - $8,500 with a filing fee of $800
    • Illustrations - $400
    • Total - $14,000
  • For a mechanical tool
    • Patent search - $1,250
    • Provisional patent application prepared and filed - $2000
    • Filing fee for a small entity - $130
    • Non-provisional patent application - $7,500
    • Filing fee for a small entity - $800
    • Illustrations - $400
    • Total - $12,000

Again, factor in the costs that may come later if you need to work further with the patent office. A good budget for this is roughly $5,000 to $7,500.

Filing Without an Attorney

If you feel competent to produce and file your patent application on your own, then the main cost you will have is the fee you pay directly to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. This is $1,000 or less, depending on your status and your patent.

A middle path is to hire a lawyer or patent professional to teach you how to write and file an application. It will cost you something, but overall, you save a great deal of money, likely thousands of dollars, and the outcome can still be a strong document.

The downsides of writing and filing your own patent application include:

  • It is a great deal of work, in terms of learning and in terms of preparation.
  • Even if the product is strong, it may not be of a professional caliber. Sometimes, minor errors make a huge difference and affect your ability to get a patent. For a lawyer, the risk of such errors is getting into trouble for malpractice.
  • You may lack the knowledge of how to distinguish your own patent from those of others.

If you choose to go it on your own, prior to visiting the lawyer, it&'s a good idea to write a draft of a patent application by using an online template. This helps you organize information, and it gives the lawyer some context to save time. If this helps the lawyer, it saves him time which saves you money.

If you choose to write the application completely on your own, consider at least hiring a lawyer to review it for anything glaringly incorrect. In the draft, try to include the following:

  • Drawings
  • Specific phrases to tell the reader about your work in detail
  • Your claims

Complexity of Invention

When you develop an invention, it can seem that the concept is rather simple. However, just because it is simple to you given your experience or perhaps simple in physical form, this does not in any way guarantee that it is legalistically simple.

There is no association between the apparent simplicity of a thing and the legalities that brought it into creation. Therefore you need an accurate concept of:

  • The time involved realistically in developing the work
  • The hours of professional labor required

Quality of Invention

Another factor in how much you spend is your plan for your work. What do you expect your work to achieve? The more ambitious you are, the higher the quality application you need.

If you expect significant demand, it may be completely reasonable to spend the funds to create and patent it, even if the item is simple. A detailed patent application completed by a professional is more likely to cover you in the long run, earning you a reliable and adaptable patent.

Such an application also requires more claims, more technical descriptions, more options, embodiments, and applications of your invention. More time with a patent analyst is a good idea.

Long-Term Costs

Unfortunately, the cost to protect your patent does not end with filing and negotiation. Once you receive the application acceptance, the following costs relate to government officiating. This does not include attorney fees, which will be $200 to $400 hourly. These costs are not expected all at once, but rather will often be allotted in installments.

  • A patent issue fee: $450
  • 3.5-year maintenance fee: $400
  • 7.5-year maintenance fee: $900
  • 11.5-year maintenance fee: $1,850

Cost Reductions

Since getting a patent is so costly, some people skip a thorough, professional patent search. As already mentioned, this is a major mistake that can waste even more of your time and resources. Some lawyers may even resist working with someone who does this or ask the client to sign a waiver since it could make them liable for wasted efforts.

To cut costs, consider applying for a provisional patent before engaging in a full patent application. After one year of filing a provisional patent, the applicant can convert it to a full utility patent application. This type of application explains the creation completely, but it's less thorough. Notes can be attached to support it.

  • A provisional patent has fewer formalities, takes less time, and costs less.
  • The later updated version can correct or improve any shortcomings.
  • A provisional application has just enough facts to justify your request and prove your professionalism.
  • A provisional application protects your idea in the interim while you discover more details and decide how to proceed.
  • It grants you the protection you need for up to a year while allowing you to move forward and learn more.
  • If you change your mind about it, you have not lost as much money.

The cost of hiring a lawyer for a provisional patent application and filing is $2,000 at a minimum. The patent office filing fee is $130 for a small entity and drawings are about $100 a page. The total you should expect is $2,500 to $3,000.

The costs factored in the mirror those for regular patent applications. You&'re always adding more funds to make up for technology mandated, the complexity of the creation, and whether other patents of that nature already exist.

Once again, areas such as software development are more costly, averaging over $6,000. More data is required for the application to go through, including computer know-how and technical planning.

What Happens Once You File Your Patent?

After you submit the provisional application, your invented item can be described as "patent pending." This gives you the liberty to show it to others since you are relatively safeguarded by the paperwork you completed. Even if you don&'t receive your patent right away, you have started the process and those actions are on record with the U.S. government.

While you&'re waiting, you are still technically eligible for an international patent and a utility patent. But, you are in a holding pattern. For one year or so, you must wait to hear back. This is a good time to continue to work on your item. It's also time you can devote to deciding whether to go through with a complete application, internationally or domestically.

Risks Associated with Patent Investment

Statistical Risk

Most patents create less profit than the applicant anticipates. International parents can cost over $100,000. Domestic ones, as we have already seen, can be over $10,000.

The Risk of Investing in a Patent Pending

Some people become so alarmed that their new idea is unprotected and may be at the whim of any interested party that they immediately apply for an expensive, yet complete, patent application. On some level, this makes sense, since upon sharing an idea, the international rights can be given over.

In the United States, people have a one-year grace period to file an idea. Having a thorough patent application submitted can give you peace of mind allow you to openly state that your discovery is patent pending.

The risk of doing this in a rushed way is obvious, however. It requires that you invest thousands of dollars and plenty of time and effort into what may be only the seed of an idea. You need time to parse out details, or you may discover some flaw that makes your invention inapplicable. Even worse, you may turn up a search revealing that your work has already been patented. You may discover that the work is not as marketable as you had imagined.

The usual way to get around this risk is by proceeding with a provisional patent.

Are You Ready to Apply for a Patent?

A patent application is a significant investment. Regardless of how you develop it, getting an honest and experienced expert opinion now can save you time and money later. For custom guidance on applying for a patent, post your job on the UpCounsel marketplace. One of our reputable and experienced lawyers can educate and guide you in the specifics.