Updated November 2, 2020:

The utility patent cost includes a $540 patent search fee, a $220 examination fee, a $330 application filing fee, and possibly a patent lawyer's legal fees which can exceed $10,000. The utility patent lasts 20 years from the date of the original application filing and includes maintenance fees that are billed every few years as follows:

  • 3.5 years - $980
  • 7.5 years - $2,580
  • 11.5 years - $4,110

If your patent application has more than three claims on it, you'll be charged an extra $220 per claim. If you have more than 10 claims on the application, the fee is only $52 per claim.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) might also include additional fees including post-issuance fees, extension of time fees, and trademark processing fees, among others.

Since utility patents are the most valuable, the costs to patent them at the USPTO can range anywhere from $6,000 to $15,000. The more complex the invention, the higher the cost. The most affordable patent application is restricted to "micro-entities," which is a small inventor that has not been previously named on more than four patent applications.

Next, you have the "small entity," which are usually independent inventors, small businesses, and nonprofit organizations. Corporations fall under the umbrella of "large entities," and as such, they are charged the most expensive filing fees.

What Is a Utility Patent?

A utility patent is granted for a new machine, process, matter composition, drug, chemical, lifeform, business methods, and manufacturing. This is one of the two main patent types the USPTO grants. The other is a design patent, which protects an invention's design but not its functional features. Companies that specialize in intellectual property must protect their inventions carefully to ensure that they are solely able to manufacture and profit from these creations. Patent protection is an essential part of proving your company's value and attracting investors.

What Are Other Fees Associated With a Patent?

The cost to apply for a patent is only one part of the process. As an inventor, you must consider the costs associated with prosecuting, revising, issuing, and maintaining the patent. Doing some of the steps on your own, such as filling out the provisional patent application, can help keep your total patent costs down.

You can also request expedited handling to get your patent decision from the USPTO within 12 months from the date of your application. This expedited request costs an additional $4,130 for large entities and $2,070 for small entities. Conditions also apply. See the USPTO's Federal Register announcement for more information.

Before the USPTO grants a patent, you will need to pay an issue fee. Currently, the issue fee for a utility patent, including the publication fee, is $2,070 for large entities. For small entities, the issue fee is $1,185.

In addition to the fees, it's important to consider the ongoing cost of maintaining your patent. This includes prosecuting those who infringe on your intellectual property. The right to do so is the main protection provided by the patent process.

The USPTO charges ongoing maintenance fees for active patents in the third, seventh, and eleventh years after the patent is issued. These are currently billed at:

  • $575 for a small entity and $1,150 for a large entity after 3.5 years
  • $1,450 for a small entity and $2,900 for a large entity after 7.5 years
  • $2,405 for a small entity and $4,810 for a large entity after 11.5 years

Although a patent search is likely one of the most expensive aspects of protecting your invention, it's important to be comprehensive and thorough. This is not an area in which you should consider cutting costs. Doing a patent search uncovers prior art related to your invention to determine whether or not the creation is truly unique before seeking patent protection. Only inventions that are novel can be patented.

Because it's impossible in some industries to uncover every possible aspect of prior art, you should strive to be 80 percent confident after your patent search that your invention does not copy existing prior art. To be completely confident would require an undue investment, often in the hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. In addition, patent applications filed in the last 18 months are not currently searchable.

The more thorough your prior art search, the more thorough your patent application will be since you will be able to illustrate exactly how your invention is distinguished from other inventions. For this reason, many inventors opt to have their patent attorneys do a professional search. While costs for this service vary depending on the industry, the average ranges from $1,000 to $3,000 depending on your desired level of written analysis, the depth of the searchable prior art, and the complexity of your invention. This will also prevent you from investing many more thousands to apply for a patent for which your invention is ineligible.

How Much Does a Patent Attorney Cost?

Getting and maintaining a utility patent is a time-consuming, expensive process. Not only are you stuck with mandatory fees from the Patent Office, but you'll also need to pay your lawyer and patent draftsperson (the professional who draws your patent illustrations). The type of invention and degree of complexity both influence the cost of legal services for your patent application.

When deciding how much to spend on a patent, you must consider whether market opportunities exist for your invention. If you do expect to be able to market your product, it's important to invest in a qualified attorney who can ensure that your intellectual property is protected.

When hiring a lawyer to complete the patent application process, you should discuss his or her method of billing. Many patent lawyers bill by the hour, and since a complicated utility patent application can take a long time to complete, the cost of the lawyer's time alone could end up being $10,000. Attorney fees for a non-provisional patent application can range from $5,000 to more than $15,000 depending on the complexity of the intellectual property involved. Approximate industry-based costs reported in 2008 by Alan Kasper of the American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA), based on data from the AIPLA 2007 Report of the Economic Survey are as follows:

  • $8,500 for a basic patent application
  • $11,500 for a complicated mechanical patent
  • $13,700 for complicated computer or electrical patents
  • $15,500 for a complicated biotechnology or chemistry patent

Other sources break down the estimated costs by complexity as follows:

  • $5,000 to $7,000 filing fee and $1000 patent search fee for a very simple invention such as a coat hanger or ice cube tray
  • $7,000 to $8,500 attorney and filing fees and $1,000 patent search fee for a relatively simple invention, such as a board game or flashlight
  • $8,500 to $10,000 attorney and filing fees and $1,500 patent search fee for a minimally complex invention, such as a camera or power tool
  • $10,000 to $12,000 attorney and filing fees and $1,500 patent search fee for a moderately complex invention such as a basic cell phone
  • $12,000 to $14,000 attorney and filing fees and $2,000 patent search fee for a relatively complex invention such as a shock-absorbing medical device
  • $14,000 to $16,000 attorney and filing fees and $2,500 patent search fee for a highly complex invention such as satellite technology or MRI imaging machine
  • $16,000-plus attorney and filing fees and $3,000 patent search fee with an opinion for software-related patents

Software patents are particularly costly because they require extensive technical detail to prove that the invention is unique and novel compared to other available software programs.

Some attorneys do work for a flat fee, but you'll need to make sure the lawyer will complete all the work in detail rather than do the bare minimum. Capped fees are also an option at some law firms, which are essentially hourly rates with a limit; you cannot be billed more than the agreed-upon cap. You should always compare your options.

Why Is a Patent Attorney So Costly?

When you file a patent application and seek attorney assistance, you are paying for his or her time in researching and preparing the patent, as well as the time of specialists and experts that he or she employs. Patent attorneys have technical training in addition to their legal training, such as doctoral degrees in the software, computer, biotech, or other areas in which they specialize. He or she may also hire additional subject matter experts based on the type of invention, paraprofessionals to complete the clerical work associated with filing a patent, and illustrators to create drawings, figures, and diagrams as needed.

In addition to preparing and filing your patent applications, your patent attorney will negotiate with the USPTO on your behalf. You have a right to appeal their decision on your patent, but each new submission may cost in the thousands of dollars if additional research and claims are required. If you need to appeal your patent to the internal review board or federal court, legal costs will be even higher.

You may also be required to file an amendment to your patent application. According to AICPA, average amendment costs are as follows:

Minimal complexity = $2,244.00
Relatively complex biotechnology/chemical case = $4,448.00
Relatively complex electrical/computer case = $3,910.00
Relatively complex mechanical case is = $3,506.00

Should I File a Patent Myself to Save Money?

Trying to file a utility patent application on your own requires extensive research and understanding of the patent application process itself, not to mention an understanding of patent databases and patent search engines, both of which can help you make sure your idea is patentable.

Failing to research the patent process may result in costly mistakes. The worst-case scenario is that you lose your patent rights. A patent attorney can ensure the process is completed correctly and efficiently.

Fortunately, you do have some time to decide. The first step in the patent filing process is called the provisional patent application. This is an unofficial application you can fill out on your own and submit to the patent office. It will give you "Patent Pending" protections for one year, but you must file the official non-provisional patent application before the provisional expires.

If you choose to go this route, you can use this year to save the money to hire a professional and pay the patent fees to get your invention patented on time.

While hiring a professional is almost always recommended, you may be able to complete the patent application yourself if you have:

  • Plenty of free time to devote to the process
  • The writing skills needed to articulate your invention in the application
  • A highly organized, project-minded brain

Unless this describes you, hiring a patent lawyer if your best bet.

What Is the Difference Between a Provisional and Non-Provisional Patent Application?

There are two types of patent applications: provisional and non-provisional. The provisional application is generally considered a placeholder because it protects your invention with a "Patent Pending" protection, but it is not the official patent application. The official application is the non-provisional form.

The provisional patent application gives you a filing date but doesn't begin the USPTO review process. In fact, the USPTO doesn't even look at your provisional patent application. The application will essentially start the clock on the time limit to file the non-provisional patent application.

Filing a provisional patent application gives you the right to claim "patent pending" status on your invention. You can then show it to whomever you wish without worrying about someone stealing the idea. You also won't lose your international patent rights.

The provisional patent application gives you a full year to develop your product and research the market before deciding whether to file an official patent application. While you can file the provisional application yourself, it helps to have some sort of guidance, particularly from a registered patent lawyer.

When writing your provisional patent application, keep these tips in mind:

  1. Be sure the application meets the enablement and written description requirements of 35 U.S.C 112. You should adequately describe the components, their connection, and the invention's operation in detail.
  2. Avoid using restrictive language in the description such as "necessary," "must," "essential," etc.
  3. Be accurate but broad. For example, if your invention uses a nail to hold together two components, you can refer to the nail as a "fastener," or state that one piece of wood is "coupled" with the second piece.

While you can fill out the provisional patent application yourself or even skip it altogether, the non-provisional application is far more demanding. The USPTO will use the non-provisional patent application to review your invention, assess its value and functionality, and make a decision whether to award a patent. Because it's an official document, the non-provisional application is more expensive than the provisional, and it must be done according to exacting standards, which is why most inventors hire a patent lawyer.

To begin the patent application process, you can file the less expensive provisional patent application first, which protects your invention for a year. During this time, you can meet with investors and financial institutions to raise funds for the non-provisional patent application and lawyer fees. You will generally need a breakdown of these costs to show to any party interested in lending you money for the patent.

Will I Make Money From a Utility Patent?

There is no guarantee you will make money from patenting an invention. In fact, as much as 97 percent of patents earn less revenue than they cost to obtain.

How Can I Save Money on the Patent Application Process?

You can file your applications electronically on the USPTO website. When you file by paper, you're looking at an extra $400 fee – no exceptions. If you're feeling up to the task, you can also do some of the research and application processes yourself.

Are All Inventions Eligible for Patent Protection?

In short, no. A utility invention must be non-obvious, new, and useful in order to be patentable. The USPTO examiner will compare your invention to prior art, which describes the previous inventions in your industry. He or she will determine whether your invention is unique based on precedents set by the U.S. Court of Appeals, Supreme Court, and Patent and Trademark Office. The better description of your invention and the more detailed the claims you provide in your application, the easier it will be to prove that your invention is unique and thus patentable.

Are Patent Pending Applications Private?

Yes. The Patent Office keeps all patent applications secret until the patent has been granted. Granted patent applications are made public 18 months after the earliest filing date.

How Long Does it Take for a Patent to Be Issued?

The timeframe for getting a patent varies. Most utility patents are issued within one to three years of the non-provisional filing date.

How Long Does a Utility Patent Last?

In the United States, a utility patent will expire either 17 years from the patent issue date or 20 years from the patent application filing date, whichever happens later.

What Is a Design Patent?

Although it can be more efficient and less costly to seek a design patent than it is to get a utility patent, the scope of coverage of the latter is much broader. Design patents, on the other hand, provide protection only for the appearance of an item, such as an item of clothing, a medical device, a user interface layout, or any other manufactured product. Only items that look exactly like your invention can be considered infringing.

If you need help with utility patent costs, 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, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.