With so much thought and hard work spent developing a new product, some inventors see patent applications as a mere formality. As a result, the associated filing fees and professional expenses can lead to a major case of sticker shock.

While patents are a vital way to guard against imitators and help make your product profitable, they don’t come cheap. If you’re planning to bring a new idea to market, be sure you have a sense of what these expenses can be ahead of time.

The Main Costs

Filing even a fairly simple utility patent before the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) will typically cost upwards of $5,000, often considerably more. The more complicated the product, the more expensive it becomes. Relatively complex applications, including those for sophisticated software and machinery, can easily reach $13,000 to $15,000.

The majority of this sum by far goes to patent attorneys. While their rate may sound steep, researching prior patents and putting together an effective application is time-consuming work. Remember, the attorney has a crucial role: to demonstrate that your concept is distinct in important ways from the countless products already on the market.

That’s no easy task. The effective applications make as many claims about the invention as possible, making it easier to prosecute copycats down the line if they infringe on your idea. Using a patent agent instead of an attorney can reduce these costs, but be sure the agent can do everything needed. Click here to reach the USPTO website's search list of attorneys and agents licensed to practice before it.

Often, the attorney’s bill will also cover related expenses, such as the creation of professional drawings.  A complete set of illustrations will usually run in excess of $200 to $400. Most of the time, that’s money well spent, since carefully rendered drawings can make an application the much stronger. 

The bill will typically include the filing fee as well. The amount the USPTO charges depends on the type of applicant. Larger organizations have to put up $280 for a utility patent application, while smaller firms pay $140 and “micro entities” pay $70.  Design patents, which pertain to the visual aspects of an invention, are a bit less expensive, ranging from $45 to $180. 

Resist Cutting Corners

In light of the considerable expense associated with patent applications, some inventors are tempted to cut corners wherever they can. Much of the time, this ends of being a big mistake because the application invariably is weaker than it could be.

One of the ways that filers look to save a few bucks is by skipping the patent search. This early part of the process is where an attorney carefully researches existing patents on file to make reasonably sure your idea is actually something new.  

The patent search is essential because if a nearly identical product is out there, the whole application becomes fruitless.  While saving a few hundred dollars may seem like a good way to keep costs down, this isn’t an area where you want to skimp. 

Provisional Patent Applications

One route worth considering is filing a provisional patent application, which buys applicants time before they have to file for a formal patent. A provisional utility patent gives the inventor the right to use the “patent pending” label with the product, which provides a greater level of security when pitching the idea to outside companies. It also postpones the larger expense of a non-provisional patent application while inventors refine their product. 

Provisional patents are a considerable expense in their own right, with attorney fees usually costing $4,000 or more. However, some lawyers will credit this amount to the cost of a non-provisional application later on, so you’re not necessarily paying more in the end. If in doubt, make sure you understand your attorney’s policy on provisional applications ahead of time. 

The Bottom Line

Filing for a patent is a big financial hurdle, but cutting corners isn't the answer. In the long run, paying an attorney to research existing patents and write a detailed application is usually money well spent.