The patenting process can be very overwhelming and quite costly to an inventor who wishes to secure patent protection for their invention. But there are certain steps of the process that should not be neglected because of financial constraints, otherwise your efforts could actually be counterproductive and work against you in the end, not to mention your money will be wasted.
Regularly, we have inventors come to us for assistance with their inventions but start their conversation with “I have a very limited income.” With the economy being as tough as it is for as long as it has been since the economic downturn, increasing numbers of people are dusting off their old invention ideas and working on them in hopes that a new invention will help get them out of debt and to a better place financially. The problem is these inventors are also often the ones that have little disposable income with which to protect their inventions.
An all too typical conversation with inventors with limited funds starts like this: “I need it to cost under $600, because that is all I have to spend.” But the filing fees payable to the USPTO alone are $130 for a provisional patent application (half that much if you qualify as a micro entity) and a minimum of $800 for a non-provisional patent application (again, half that much for micro entities). If you are successful in convincing the patent examiner you deserver a patent the issue fee due to the United States Patent and Trademark Office will be $480, or $240 if you are a micro entity. Without even considering the cost of patent drawings, which should be considered absolutely essential, or any other fees that may come due during the process, it is impossible to obtain a patent for such a little investment even if you represent yourself.
There are ways that inventors can file for patent protection on their inventions with a limited budget, but even then you have to be realistic in the costs of this undertaking. It is critical to remember though that this is a process, and in order to do it right there are several steps that need to take place and each of these steps will take time and money.
You cannot simply write down on a piece of paper what your invention is, and get a patent. If you follow these necessary steps of the process, and use the resources available to you, you can file a respectable patent application at a somewhat reasonable cost. But keep in mind that even if you are relatively Internet savvy and an educated individual, without the assistance of a Licensed Patent Attorney, the chances of things being missed or written incorrectly, increase exponentially.
The nightmare scenario is spending what limited resources you have pursuing a patent on your own and winding up with a patent or patent application that is worthless. So many inventors think that if they don’t see their invention on the market or being used in everyday life that their invention is novel. But I can tell you, that is more often than not, an incorrect assumption. We highly recommend to all of our clients that they subject their invention to a through patent search to make sure that there is a realistic opportunity to receive a patent.
Just because you do not see it on the market doesn’t mean that it or something similar to it hasn’t already been patented. There are lots of reasons why something might not be on the market, but still have patent protection. For example, a lot of times independent inventors will get a patent and then just lose interest or run out of money and nothing ever becomes of the invention they chose to protect. In this scenario the next person who comes up with the idea/invention cannot get a patent and moves on, so the device never manages to make its way into the marketplace. So, we always recommend starting with a patent search.
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At IPWatchdog.com, we offer a comprehensive patent search service which includes a search, consultation and opinion, which varies in cost depending upon the complexity of your invention, and we have recently added services that provide a search report only, in an effort to make our services more affordable on a budget. But what do you do if your budget is very limited? We have several articles you need to read before embarking on your own patent search. These are:
- Patent Searching 101
- Patent Searching 102
- I Can’t Find Prior Art for my Invention!
- What is the Patentable Feature?
One of the keys to doing a patent search is to not look for just your invention as it is, but rather look for different aspects of your invention in other inventions as well. Be prepared though because when someone without many years of patent searching experience sets out to do a patent search it is not something that can be done in an hour or two. It is not uncommon for patent professionals to spend several hours conducting their searches on client inventions even when the invention is relatively simple. So if you are going to do your own search you have to be willing to put in time. Even then, at some point before you start to spend serious money on your invention you will likely find it to be an extremely worthwhile investment to obtain a professional patent search. It just doesn’t make sense spending good money chasing a patent that could never be obtained.
Once you have completed your search, and you are pretty certain that there is no prior art close enough to your invention to render your invention not patentable, the next step would be to file a provisional patent application, particularly prior to discussing your invention with companies you think may be interested in your invention including manufacturers, marketing firms, and/or investors. A provisional patent application will give you a “patent pending” status, which you must keep in mind, is only “perceived protection” in that you will have 12 months to file a non-provisional patent application, or your application will expire and a patent will never issue. A provisional patent application is significantly cheaper than a non-provisional patent application with relatively few guidelines necessary to file a provisional patent application. A poorly written provisional can actually do more harm than good, so be careful. A provisional patent application must be complete as of the time of filing because anything that is not included in this patent application when it is filed will not be covered as of the earlier filing date. But a provisional patent application is only as good as the level of detail you include, which is why you want to not only describe your invention but also any possible variations of your invention no matter how crude the variation may be. For more information on drafting please see:
For an inventor who has never ventured down this path before, creating a provisional patent application is something that can seem quite intimidating, especially if the inventor has had no experience with drafting any kind of legal documentation. Gene Quinn is not only a Licensed Patent Attorney, but has also been a law professor for many years. In this capacity he has taught many prospective patent attorneys and law school students how to draft provisional patent applications. In so doing, he developed a system that we call the Invent + Patent System. This system is designed to help you create your own provisional patent application with relative ease and can be purchased on our site for $99. What he did was to create answer templates that can be used to force inventors to provide the critical information that will be required to ensure a complete application. Along with the question templates there are instructions on how to format the application and file it yourself. It is an excellent way to save money while still having your end result be a document that is worth filing, assuming you follow through the system in good faith. Keep in mind that the Invent + Patent System is a 100% self-help system, which means you are using the system to proceed on your own without an attorney. If you can afford an attorney that is always the best way to proceed, but for those who can’t and still want to move forward you will find the Invent + Patent System to be extremely helpful.
In order to file a strong, high quality do-it-yourself provisional patent application, you will need to be dedicated to your invention. This is not an endeavor that should be taken on lightly because as I stated earlier, you will need to put in time spent, what you are saving in money spent. If you serious and are willing to put in the time to conduct a thorough patent search, to create and file and well written provisional application and to have time to devote to developing your invention, you can successfully complete the first few yet very important steps of the patent process on a tight but realistic budget.
In closing, now the the United States is a first to file system, getting in a high quality patent application as soon as possible is always the preferred solution. While it would be great if you seriously considered the suggestions here, as well as in the other articles we provide as references, but if you learn only one lesson from this article it should be about the importance of professional patent drawings, which can and do greatly enhance any patent application. A picture really is worth a thousand word, and patent drawings are surprisingly affordable. For more on patent drawings please see Patent Drawings: What do you Need?