How Much Does it Cost to Patent an Invention?

The cost of patenting an invention will range between about $1,500 and upwards of $10,000 depending on the complexity of the invention and on how much of the process you handle yourself. Filing fees are $65 for a provisional patent and between $130-400 for a non-provisional patent. You’ll also need to pay for a patent search, attorneys fees, and patent drawings. After the patent has been approved, there is an additional fee for issuance and periodic fees over the life of the patent to maintain it.

Obtaining a Patent in the US Costs How Much?

$1,500 to north of $10,000 is a pretty big range. However, estimating US Patent costs is difficult because there are so many variables, such as:

  • How complex the idea is
  • What sorts of technology are involved
  • The kind of patent being applied for
  • The amount of the process the applicant will handle personally, verus using service providers

In addition, stronger patents tend to cost more to apply for. This is because to make a patent application strong, the person who prepares it needs to do more research, assert more (and more detailed) claims, prepare and include more drawings, make more detailed technical disclosures, and so on. All of this means more time for you and/or your attorney in creating the application. It also means that more time will be spent in the review process with the title examiner—billable time if you have an attorney handling the application for you.

Figuring out how much to invest in a patent is a judgement call. For some companies, the majority, or maybe even all of their value is in intellectual property. If that’s the case, it may make sense to budget more per patent application because they need to know for sure that their patent fully protects their idea, in order to protect the viability of their business and to get funding from investors. So, companies in the pharmaceutical and software sectors, for example, might invest several times more than other companies in their patents.

Ways to Keep the Costs Down

Many inventors, especially those new to the process and with an idea they don’t yet know will sell, look for ways to keep the costs of the patent application down. Let’s take a look at some of the corners and whether it makes sense to cut them.

The Patent Search

The patent search is they very first costly step in the process that many inventors consider skipping. A patent search is a process performed by professionals for a fee. They are looking for “prior art”, which means other patents similar to yours. This is essential because you need to explain, in your application, how your invention is similar to or different than other patented items. Failing to do so can easily mean rejection of your claim. Also, there is the possibility that the patent search may reveal other patents that are so similar to yours that you decide not to pursue your application.

Skipping the patent search is never a good idea. In fact, many attorneys won’t represent an inventor who has skipped the patent search, or will only do so if they sign a waiver acknowledging that this was against legal advice and may affect the success of their application.

Many inventors do their initial searches themselves, using the US Patent and Trademark Office (US PTO) website. This is a good idea and can help you get a sense of whether there are obvious prior patents that preclude yours, or of what other ideas are out there that you need to reference in explaining where your idea fits in. However, if you decide to proceed with a formal application, a DIY patent search is probably not enough. A professional patent searcher working with your attorney will always find prior art that you missed, because they know exactly what terms to look for in navigating PTO’s massive database.

Even a professional patent search probably won’t find everything. In fact, their goal is only to uncover about 80 percent of relevant prior art. This is because recent applications (those in the past 18 months) may not be searchable yet, and the overall universe of data to search is so huge. However just knowing about 80 percent of relevant patents will give you a good sense that a) your idea is unique enough to pursue and b) you know what other ideas you need to describe yours in relation to.

So how much for all this? A patent search by a professional, together with a written opinion of the search by an attorney, is probably going to cost between $1,000 at the low end and up to $5,000 at the high end. There are three main factors that will determine where in that range the specific costs will land:

  1. How complex the invention being searched is
  2. How detailed of an analysis and written report you request
  3. The number of related patents, or “prior art” the search turns up that need to be considered and analyzed.

Granted, it is a lot of money. However, it is some of the best money you will spend during the process since it frames the remainder of your application—or may lead you to conclude an application is not worthwhile.

The Provisional Application

Another way to potentially cut costs is to start with a provisional patent application. A provisional application has far fewer formal requirements than a full application, meaning it costs less. A provisional application protects your invention in its current form and gives you 12 months to continue working on your invention before you need to file a non-provisional application in order to continue improving it.

Taking into account filing fees, attorneys fees, drawings, a preliminary search, and so forth, a solid provisional application for a straightforward small business idea might cost in the neighborhood of $2,500. Of course, there are many variables that will affect that cost.

In the right circumstances, a provisional application can be a good way to get some protection at a reasonable cost while you work to see how much value your idea has and whether full patent protection makes sense to pursue.

The DIY Patent

Many patent applicants look to cut costs by preparing the application themselves rather than hiring a lawyer to do the application and a patent illustrator to do the patent drawings. This is definitely an option, and it can save a lot of money. It also takes a tremendous amount of time and effort to do it right, and it is easy to make seemingly minor mistakes that can cause your application to fail, or to provide you with inadequate protection. That high risk of error is the reason that patent lawyers pay more for their malpractice insurance than almost any other type of lawyer.

If you do decide to DIY your application, do as much as you can to education yourself. There are classes you can take offered by local small business groups and community colleges, as well as forums and discussion groups in social media. Get as much information as possible and talk to others who have been through the process.

Is My Idea Worth It?

Once you have a sense of the costs you will need to assume to get your patent in place; you’ll need to make a judgement call on whether your idea justifies those costs. Statistics show that a whopping 97 percent of patented ideas generate less money than the patent cost to obtain. Proceed with caution and if possible, talk to some experts to try to determine whether patent protection is really worth the investment before you proceed.

Timeline: What’s Due When?

Not all of the costs of a patent are payable at one time. The typical timeline of costs and the order in which they are incurred looks a little like this (costs are variable unless specified):

  • Due diligence costs for exploring your idea with a patent attorney or consultant, patent searches, etc.
  • Application preparation fees to attorney (if applicable)
  • Patent drawings fees to illustrator (if applicable)
  • Provisional Patent Application Fees (if applicable). $65 for small entities, $130 for larger entities
  • Non-provisional application fees (within 12 months after provisional application) Approximately $400.
  • Patent issuance fee. $450
  • Maintenance fee (due 3.5 years after your patent is allowed). $400
  • Maintenance fee (due 7.5 years after your patent is allowed). $900
  • Maintenance fee (due 11.5 years after your patent is allowed). $1,850

Use “Patent Pending” to Get the Most for Your Money

The chances are that in order to tap into the value of your idea or invention you are going to need to talk to people about it. That may be investors, or it may be customers. Either way, many inventors are reluctant to share their ideas with people they don’t know for fear of losing control of them.

Filing a patent application—whether full or provisional—can provide a solution to this concern since it allows you to attach “patent pending” to any disclosure of your idea or prototype, putting the world on notice that you “own” the concept.

A provisional patent application allows you to claim “patent pending”status for 12 months or until your full patent application is filed.

A non-provisional patent application allows you to claim “patent pending” status until the patent is issued or the application is denied.

Once you file either type of application, be sure to stamp “patent pending” on any disclosures regarding your idea, and on any prototypes of it that you share.

Clearly, there is a lot to consider in evaluating patent costs. If you need help with a patent, you can post your legal need 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.