Why Do Patents Cost So Much?
When a person invents an original idea, such as a product or manufacturing method, it’s only natural that they want to protect their new creation. The official method for doing so is through filing and obtaining a patent; essentially a government-backed note of record on a creator, the extent of a creation, and how long their period of ownership will be. Getting a patent for an idea is an excellent move, but, as with all business propositions, financial concern looms large.
When obtaining a patent, your first concern is likely cost. For an inventor just starting their research and development process, facing a significant expense at the start can be daunting. Further complicating research into the cost of patents is the variety of answers you’ll turn up. The reason you won’t find a straightforward answer to “How much does a patent cost?” is simple: there isn’t one! It isn’t that patents don’t have specific schedules of fees, it’s that the type of patent you seek out heavily influences what your costs will be.
As with many legal documents processed by the federal government, there are a number of challenges in finding the right answer. The process of determining which patent you need for your idea, as well as securing it properly, can be somewhat complicated.
Step 1: Finding the Correct Type of Patent
When filing patent applications, the type of patent you select will be the primary aspect affecting your out-of-pocket costs. For example, temporary / “less permanent” options like Provisional Patent Applications will cost less at the start, but these will eventually need to be upgraded to a permanent patent in order to offer the right level(s) of protection over time. If you’ve ever seen a product that uses “Patent Pending” in its advertising or marketing, chances are this is the type of patent obtained by the inventor; it essentially acts as a temporary placeholder to prevent others from “staking claim.”
In a similar vein, Design Patent Applications cost less because they only include visual appearance, rather than the actual, physical prototype or intended usage demanded by patents on consumer products. If a company or individual came up with an idea that they had blueprints, or a CAD (computer assisted drawing) format file for, but have not yet manufactured the product in question, this type of patent may be the most appropriate.
Apart from the temporary and “2D” nature of these two patent types, you’ll find the most common type of application, a Utility Patent Application. As the name suggests, this type of patent deals with the actual intended use of a built or to-be-built product, rather than the product itself. Rather than, for example, an industrial hose capable of containing a certain chemical, a Utility Patent would lay claim to the actual use of the hose for moving that chemical, often to the exclusion of any other hose that would later attempt to patent the same use. This type of patent will cost you more, but that’s because it includes the nuances the other two types do not, such as engineering specifications, legal claims, and more.
Step 2: Determining Other Patent Cost Fees
In addition to the Application Filing Fees, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) assesses other fees as part of the patent-obtaining process. These may include line items such as search fees (making sure no one else has a similar patent to your own,) examination fees (making sure your idea is “patent-worthy,” and not overly-broad or inapplicable,) and even additional fees for large applications, which can take longer to process. Some of these individual fees can run as high as several hundred dollars, which is why it’s important to do your research and obtain help prior to starting your patent journey.
Even after correctly finding your patent type and paying all your associated fees, you’ll still have a final financial hurdle to clear: Issuance Fees. These are fees that must be paid if your patent application is successful. They are used to convert your patent application into the final form of an issued patent, incorporating that new patent into the USPTO system, and offering you legal proof in the case of a future dispute. Like patents themselves and their associated fees, issuance fees can also vary greatly based on the type of application. They are generally higher in cost than initial patent application fees.
Hiring a Patent Professional for Help
Most inventors that are serious about obtaining a patent will elect to hire a professional that specializes in the field of patent applications. The complexity of an invention, as well as the potential difficulty of obtaining a sought-after patent, will usually affect the legal costs of this type of assistance. Balancing this additional cost, however, are the considerably higher odds of successfully getting a patent. Without professional help and guidance, there is also a much higher chance of wasting money on patent applications that will never turn into patents because they are unclear, filed incorrectly, or poorly assembled.
In Conclusion: Obtaining Your Patent
There are no reliable schedules of fees that account for the virtually endless ways an invention can be patented; the only way to reliably determine cost is to start actively pursuing your patent. In general, you should plan on spending several thousand dollars between your application fees, additional fees, the cost of professional assistance, and issuance fees. As a final note, hiring a professional will also allow you to receive a much more accurate cost estimate from the start, as they will be able to quickly determine (even in estimation) the complexity, type, and potential challenges of your product or design in regards to your patent cost.