The Cost of Obtaining a Patent in the US

By Gene Quinn on April 4, 2015

Portrait of George Washington abstract backgroundOne of the most frequent questions I get asked by inventors and businesses is about how much it will cost to obtain a patent. Estimating US patent costs is a difficult matter because so much depends on the technology involved, but answering “it depends” is not particularly insightful or helpful. With that in mind, what follows are some general ballpark estimates, which should give at least some guidance when trying to budget for the filing of a patent application at the United States Patent and Trademark Office. It will also be helpful to review Patent Attorney Fees Explained and US Patent Office Fees.

First, it is essential to understand that the very nature of patenting an invention means that you have to have come up with something unique compared with the prior art.  There are challenges inherent in the description of what makes an invention unique, and the law is only getting more complicated.  Thanks to the United States Supreme Court, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and ever more regulations from the United States Patent and Trademark Office it has become more difficult over the years to create the type of written description and claim sets required.  You can still get a patent, and in fact obtaining a patent is getting easier in many respects than it was 5 to 10 years ago, but gone are the days that a worthwhile patent can be obtained for cheap.  With patent applications you will always get what you pay for.

It might be useful to start with a discussion of those types of things that will influence the anticipated cost of preparing and filing a patent application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.  Obviously, among the most important considerations is the invention.  The type of invention and the degree of complexity is probably the single most important consideration that needs to be taken into account.

Inventors always want to believe what they have is relatively simple and can be easily described. This leads them to believe that the entire project should take only a few hours, which means the cost should be minimal.  The first clue that you are wishing for something that isn’t true should be that you are wishing!  In my experience many, if not most or even nearly all, inventors know deep down that the patent application process is a complex process.  If they have reviewed recent patents in the area of their invention they know that there is a lot of text, a number of drawings and the entire document is largely incomprehensible by anyone not thoroughly marinated in the intricacies of patent law.


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Indeed, the majority of inventions for most independent inventors are typically somewhere in the range from relatively simple to minimally complex (see table below).  Having said that, if you are dealing with a sophisticated electronic device your invention is almost certainly at least moderately complex and more likely relatively complex (see table below). If your invention is software related the invention will be at least highly complex because over the last several years the courts are requiring enormous amounts of technical detail in the patent application in order to have any chance of getting, and maintaining, a software patent.

If you are going to ultimately receive a patent you are going to need to file a nonprovisional patent application. Without knowing a good deal about an invention it is very difficult, if not completely impossible, to give reliable estimates as to likely costs associated with filing a nonprovisional patent application. Nevertheless, below is some rough guidance regarding what you can expect to pay in attorneys fees through filing of a nonprovisional patent application.  Obviously, I do not speak for the patent bar as a whole, so these are based on my own experience and work with inventor clients and businesses.  The examples are intended to be illustrative of the level of complexity, not to suggest that they would be patentable. Please be aware that the government filing fees of $730 are the minimum for small entities, which is how most independent inventors and small business will be characterized. For micro entities the fees would be $400 at a minimum. It is also worth noting that filing fees can and do go higher depending upon the number of claims the application contains.  Professional drawings, which really need to be thought of as required, will typically add at least another $300 too $500 for a complete set drawings. It is also worth noting that virtually no invention is “extremely simple.”

Type of Invention Examples Attorneys Fees to Filing Patent Search with Opinion
Extremely Simple
electric switch; coat hanger; paper clip; diapers; earmuffs; ice cube tray $5,000 to $7,000 $1,000 to $1,250
Relatively Simple board game; umbrella; retractable dog leash; belt clip for cell phone;
toothbrush; flashlight
$7,000 to $8,500 $1,000 to $1,250
Minimally Complex power hand tool; lawn mower; camera $8,500 to $10,000 $1,250 to $1,500
Moderately Complex ride on lawn mower; simple RFID devices; basic solar concentrator, cell phone $10,000 to $12,000 $1,500 to $1,750
Relatively Complex shock absorbing prosthetic device;
$12,000 to $14,000 $1,750 to $2,000
Highly Complex MRI scanner; PCR; telecommunication networking systems; satellite technologies
$14,000 to $16,000
$2,000 to $2,500
Software Related Software, automated systems, business methods
$16,000 +
$2,500 to $3,000

These are just ballpark figures, and attorneys fees through filing can certainly go well above $15,000 depending on complexity of invention and/or the need for and ability to acquire broad patent protection.

How much you will spend on a patent application also depends upon what it is that you want to do with the patent and whether there are realistic market opportunities. In the event there are realistic market opportunities you may spend more even on something that is simple to make sure that you have covered the invention enough to have a strong resulting patent. By way of example, you could probably find an attorney to write a patent for a business method or computer software for quite cheap, but a cheap computer related patent would not be nearly as strong as a patent application costing $20,000 or more. The devil is always in the details. Getting a stronger patent requires more claims and more attention to providing an adequate technical disclosure and describing as many alternatives, options, variations and different embodiements as possible. This, of course, requires greater attorney time, which in turn requires more time spent working with the patent examiner to get the patent issued.

For some companies all they have is intellectual property, it may be prudent to budget more per application because without an exceptionally strong foundation there will be no realistic possibility to obtain broad patent protection and without strong patent protection there is not likely to be funding available from investors.  Without funding you never get off the ground.  So in the biotechnology sector and in the software sector, where tangible assets are minimal, it is not at all surprising to hear of innovative start-up companies paying 1.5 or 2 times the ballpark figures listed above to get an application filed that is comprehensive enough to support an entire patent portfolio.

In order to keep costs down inventors and small businesses will frequently look for ways to cut corners.  Sometimes the first corner that is cut is foregoing a patent search.  This is always a bad idea and generally turns out to be a big mistake. In fact, I will only represent people who want to skip the patent search phase if they sign an agreement that sets out the dangers of choosing to forgo a patent search and that they have been specifically advised against proceeding without a patent search.  Furthermore, I recently interviewed Micky Minhas, who is Chief Patent Counsel for Microsoft, and he told me: “We do prior art searches on every one of our cases that we file and we still get unanticipated art.”  This should tell you something about the dangers that lurk.

A patent search is absolutely critical because it will give you an idea about whether it even makes sense to pursue a patent in the first place.  Patent searches do not come with guarantees.  The goal of a patent search is to reach the 80% level of confidence threshold.  To reach higher would take many thousands of dollars, and to reach near certainty would require millions of dollars, so the search that is undertaken is reasonable given the value of the invention.  It is also reasonable given that the prior art represented in patent applications filed for the first time within the last 18 months are simply not findable because they are required by law to be kept secret.  So a “no stone unturned” search is not possible and not economically wise. But a thorough search of what can be reasonably found leads to better decisions and always leads to a better written patent application that takes into account the prior art. Without knowing what is in the prior art there is simply no way to accentuate what is most likely unique in comparison to the prior art. In other words, without a search you are describing your invention in a vacuum.

While it makes sense for inventors to do their own search first, a professional searcher working with a patent attorney will always be able to find prior art patent and pending applications that you did not know about.  Searches done by a professional patent searchers and an attorney written opinion typically range from $1,000 to $3,000, depending upon: (1) the amount of written analysis you want to receive; (2) the complexity of the invention; and (3) the amount of prior art discovered that needs to be considered. In short, paying for a competent patent search with a written analysis by a patent attorney is the best money that an inventor can spend in the entire process.  The search directs the entirety of the remainder of the patent project, or it could show there is no reasonable opportunity to obtain a suitably broad patent claim so the project should be abandoned, saving the inventor many, many thousands of dollars.

Another thing inventors can do to reduce costs is to first start by filing a provisional patent application.  A provisional patent application needs to disclose the invention completely as would a nonprovisional patent application, but the exact formalities are greatly reduced making it easier to prepare, meaning it costs less.  We can attach documents to support the originally drafted provisional patent application, and we focus on getting as much as possible into the document.  In my experience most inventors who pursue the provisional do so because they have made an interesting advance and want to protect what they can now while they continue to refine and work on the invention.  Done in that way a provisional patent application makes all the sense in the world because it gives you protection with respect to what you have presently and lets you continue to work to improve the invention over 12 months before you need to file a nonprovisional patent application.

The cost for attorney time alone for a provisional patent application is typically at least $2,000. The filing fee is $130 for a small entity and drawings typically cost $100 to $125 per page, so a high quality provisional patent application for a mechanical or electrical device can typically be prepared and filed for $2,500 to $3,000.  As with nonprovisional patent applications, the technology involved and the complexity of the invention do greatly affect the quoted price for a provisional patent application. For example, for computer related inventions and software the cost to prepare and file a provisional patent application is typically $6,000 plus the filing fee and drawing costs.  The increased cost for a high quality provisional patent application that deals with software is due to the reality that so much more information is required in these applications. You really need to describe the complete architecture of the system and drill down to the algorithms, routines and sub-routines. See A Guide to Patenting Software, Building Better Software Patents and Patenting Business Methods and Software in the U.S. Of course, these are just ballpark estimates.

The one thing that we have not yet discussed in detail, which does play a role in any quote you will receive for either a provisional patent application or a nonprovisional patent application, is how many patents and published applications are found that closely relate to your invention.  When there are a lot of patents and published applications found that is said to represent a “crowded field of invention.”  As such, it will be necessary to make fine line distinctions.  The more prior art innovations that need to be considered the more the work, and hence the higher the cost.

To review, perhaps a couple examples might be helpful. These estimates are hypothetical and assume a high quality application is filed with the intent of obtaining meaningful, strong patent protection.

Example 1: Computer implemented method for facilitating certain functionality via the Internet

  • Patent search with attorney opinion = $2,500 to $3,000
  • Provisional patent application prepared and filed = $6,000
  • Filing fee to the USPTO for provisional patent application = $130 (small entity)
  • Nonprovisional patent application based off provisional filing = $10,000 to $12,000
  • Filing fee to the USPTO for nonprovisional patent application = $800 to $1,250 (small entity)
  • Professional illustrations for nonprovisional patent application = $500
  • TOTAL COST through filing nonprovisional patent application = $19,930.00 to $22,880 (if provisional patent application is skipped the cost would be $130 less)

Example 2: Consumer electronics product

  • Patent search with attorney opinion = $1,750
  • Provisional patent application prepared and filed = $2,500
  • Filing fee to the USPTO = $130 (small entity)
  • Nonprovisional patent application based off provisional filing = $8,500
  • Filing fee to the USPTO for nonprovisional patent application = $800 (small entity)
  • Professional illustrations for nonprovisional patent application = $400
  • TOTAL COST through filing nonprovisional patent application = $14,080 (if provisional patent application is skipped the cost would be $130 less)

Example 3: Mechanical tool

  • Patent search with attorney opinion = $1,250
  • Provisional patent application prepared and filed = $2,000
  • Filing fee to the USPTO = $130 (small entity)
  • Nonprovisional patent application based off provisional filing = $7,500
  • Filing fee to the USPTO for nonprovisional patent application = $800 (small entity)
  • Professional illustrations for nonprovisional patent application = $400
  • TOTAL COST through filing nonprovisional patent application = $12,080 (if provisional patent application is skipped the cost would be $130 less)

The costs can add up quickly no doubt, and there will be post-filing costs once the Patent Examiner starts to examine the application filed, but those will be the subject of a future article. Still, you should budget at least another $5,000 to $7,500 for prosecution and issue fees to the Patent Office.

Given the high costs associated with obtaining a patent some inventors either need to give up on the project, do it themselves or seek deep-discount providers, many of whom are not patent attorneys or patent agents.  You need to always remember that you get what you pay for, which is true in every aspect of life, so be careful with deep-discount providers.  Before going with such a deep-discount provider be sure and read Patent Pricing: You Get What You Pay For.

For those who need to pursue protection on their own I have developed a self help system – The Invent + Patent System™ – for preparing and filing a provisional patent application. I have used this system with my own clients to collect information from them to help facilitate the application process. I have used this process to teach law students how to draft patent applications, and thousands of inventors have used this system to prepare and file their own provisional patent applications. While it is always better to hire a professional if you can afford it, I feel comfortable saying that my system is better than anything else out there.

The Author

Gene Quinn

Gene Quinn is a patent attorney and the founder of IPWatchdog.com. He is also a principal lecturer in the PLI Patent Bar Review Course and an attorney with Widerman & Malek.

Gene’s particular specialty as a patent attorney is in the area of strategic patent consulting, patent application drafting and patent prosecution. He has worked with independent inventors and start-up businesses in a variety of different technology fields, but specializes in software, systems and electronics.

is admitted to practice law in New Hampshire, is a Registered Patent Attorney licensed to practice before the United States Patent Office and is also admitted to practice before the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Gene is a graduate of Franklin Pierce Law Center and holds both a J.D. and an LL.M. Prior to law school he graduated from Rutgers University with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering.

You can contact Gene via e-mail.

Warning & Disclaimer: The pages, articles and comments on IPWatchdog.com do not constitute legal advice, nor do they create any attorney-client relationship. The articles published express the personal opinion and views of the author and should not be attributed to the author’s employer, clients or the sponsors of IPWatchdog.com. Read more.

Discuss this

There are currently 18 Comments comments. Join the discussion.

  1. Larry Kilham April 4, 2015 4:42 pm

    Good article Gene. If been looking for a summary like this for some time.

  2. TJM April 4, 2015 11:57 pm

    Gene,
    This is a good article. One thing I would add is that the inventor should also give some thought to whether he/she will want to protect the invention in any foreign countries. This can be very helpful for a patent attorney to know upfront when drafting the claims, and it is important for the inventor to understand that he will also have to pay filing/search/examination fees in each foreign country he wishes to file in.

  3. J.D. Houvener April 5, 2015 11:30 am

    Yes, great article. One clarification I think is important is that this is the cost simply for FILING a patent, not OBTAINING a patent as your title “Cost to Obtain a Patent” alludes to. If the question is estimating costs for obtaining a patent, you’d have to also consider the cost of responding to 2-3 rejections/objections from examiner(s) and the filing fees to go with those at least an issue fee.

  4. Gene Quinn April 5, 2015 12:16 pm

    JD-

    Near the end the article does address additional costs during prosecution through to issue, saying:

    “there will be post-filing costs once the Patent Examiner starts to examine the application filed, but those will be the subject of a future article. Still, you should budget at least another $5,000 to $7,500 for prosecution and issue fees to the Patent Office.”

    For some types of inventions that estimate will be high, for others that will be low.

    Thanks for reading.

    -Gene

  5. Dorit Shem-Tov April 5, 2015 2:28 pm

    I agree with TJM’s comment. The article indeed is good; and it should be pointed out to the inventor (or more accurate to the applicant) that a given patent is only useful for protecting an invention in the country in which that patent is granted.
    Furthermore, in order to keep the patent in force, in most countries as well as in the USA, the patent is subject to renewal fees. In Europe, for example, renewal fees are to be paid each year (even for pending applications).

  6. Ralph April 7, 2015 1:35 pm

    As a rule of thumb, I use 40-45K as a total,with 35-40% to filing, 35-40% for prosecution to Issue, and the last 20% for maintenance over the patent life.

  7. Edgar April 29, 2015 3:53 pm

    Gene, thanks for the article.

    I’m searching for details about patenting by myself vs the possible revenue. One question for which I haven’t found response is the current percentage of patents that effectively generate revenue. Do you have some data related to this?

  8. Dhananjoy Mishra April 29, 2015 5:16 pm

    Is it necessary to apply patent for each country? if I apply for patent in US, can i use the same in india or Africa?

  9. Gene Quinn April 30, 2015 12:51 am

    Dhananjoy-

    Patents are territorial. If you want exclusive rights you need to obtain a patent in each country where you want such exclusive rights.

    -Gene

  10. Night Writer May 3, 2015 9:29 pm

    What about the $500K for the post grant review?

  11. Saint Cad May 27, 2015 10:20 pm

    How as Alice affected the cost of getting a software patent?

  12. Gene Quinn May 28, 2015 2:14 pm

    Saint-

    Alice has definitely made it more costly to prepare and file patent applications claiming software related inventions. I suspect over time we will see that it takes much longer to get anything issued, thereby increasing the cost of prosecution. With every knew software patent case the cost to clients goes up.

    -Gene

  13. Himself June 9, 2015 4:56 pm

    1. Why is it so costly to get help with making your invention(dream) a reality?

    2. I’m afraid to openly talk about my invention to just any for fear of them taking it.

  14. Koert June 18, 2015 4:53 pm

    I am completely in the same boat. I believe I have the next multi-million dollar invention, just afraid of trusting somebody with taking my information and processing it. For this reason, I am continuing to search and find information as to who to go through and how in the heck I will pay for it. All is quite amazing coming from a 19 year old entrepreneur :).

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  16. jahnu peri July 14, 2015 4:55 am

    hello Mr.Quinn, We are a few friends from India who invented a kind of communication equipment, we made it out of scrap and it works. i see that there is a market for it, however i fail to understand that someone else have already a patent for it? used it or its been under use? how do i go about searching for the same. where would be the best place to find it. Can help me on this

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