Inventors seeking to obtain patent protection for the first time generally
have little idea how much it should cost.
Most inventors apply for either a design patent or a utility patent. A design patent protects the aesthetic design of the exterior of utilitarian items, such as a lamp or an athletic shoe. A utility patent gives protection for an article of manufacture, a chemical substance, the way a machine works, or the way a chemical process works.
Design patent application. The cost and quality of this application is driven by the number and quality of drawings describing the applied-for design. Good patent drawings cost anywhere from about $85 per sheet (average quality) to about $150 per sheet (excellent quality). In a design case, don't scrimp on the drawings because they form the heart of the case. The attorney-prepared portion of the case includes a written description of the drawings and a single standard claim. The filing fee is $150 for a small entity (an inventor with less than 500 employees). The only other cost is the attorney's fee for his/her time in preparing the patent application, which is typically spent in drafting the specification, contacting the draftsman to instruct him/her on how to prepare the drawings, and preparing the papers for execution of the patent application. Because of the lesser time demands, most attorneys will charge a fixed fee of $400 to $600.
Assuming an average attorney's fee is $500, two sheets of high-quality drawings and filing fee of $150 and express mail charges, an inventor should be able to file an application for less than $1000.
A utility patent application. Far different and more complex, this application includes a background, summary, description of drawings, detailed description, and claims written in a rather specialized language, in addition to the drawings and filing fee. The drawings cost per sheet stays about the same, but the small entity filing fee is $365. Because of the lengthy text which the attorney must draft, the cost of preparing the utility patent application is driven by the attorney charges.
Most attorneys with a general technical background can prepare mechanical cases. Electrical engineering patent attorneys can usually handle both electrical and mechanical cases. Chemical engineering patent attorneys can usually handle both chemical and mechanical cases. The inventor should be certain that the patent attorney who drafts the application is familiar with the technical area of the invention and understands it thoroughly. The inventor should also make sure that he/she is dealing directly with the attorney who will actually write the application.
One objective measure of cost is dollars per page of the patent application, including the claims and abstract, although the number of pages will not be determined until the case is finished. On average, patent cases cost about $100 per typed, double-spaced page.
Higher-cost cases, in my experience, often result when the inventor decides to add more embodiments of the invention after the first draft. It takes time to completely integrate new embodiments.
Q: What ways do inventors have to cut costs?
A: They can request a fixed fee for preparing the case, based upon the two-stage procedure, i.e., no additions to the case after the work is begun. Remember that a fixed fee is a contract bet in which the attorney will try to make an estimate which is low enough to get the job, but also high enough to cover any additional work which may not be apparent during the initial interview and presentation of the invention. Making a long-term estimate for fees occurring after the filing of the patent application is usually counter-productive due to the uncertainty on both sides of such an arrangement.
Inventors should also consider the time of completion the inventor expects from the patent attorney. Most patent attorneys charge a premium for rush work. The inventor should get an estimate of cost, before discussing the timing, to ferret out a timing cost differential. If drawings are needed, they must consider the patent draftsman's schedule.
Q: How else should the attorney communicate his or her costs to clients?
A: A patent attorney should offer a schedule of services and standard charges for potential clients to review when they try to assess the cost/benefit advantage of the firm, as well as a standard letter or booklet outlining options relating to the patent application, such as petitions to make special or foreign patent application filing.
Providing pricing information to clients is a minimum requirement for any legal firm. Even higher-priced firms should still provide their prices and charges prominently for potential clients.