Inventors and entrepreneurs who shop around find that if they take their invention to a number of different patent attorneys they are likely to get a number of different quotes for services ranging from patent searches to patent applications. In fact, you have probably seen the ads on the Internet where a patent attorney or patent agent proclaim that they can prepare and file a U.S. nonprovisional patent application for some ridiculously low price, perhaps as low as $1,400. It is my opinion that there is no legitimate way to adequately prepare and file a nonprovisional patent application for $1,400. In fact, the lowest quotes we typically provide are for between $6,000 to $8,000 plus the filing fees and costs of drawings. See Cost of Obtaining a Patent. So why the great disparity? The first thing to understand is that like everything else in life, you get what you pay for. There is just no way to escape that economic reality.
Often times a patent attorney or patent agent will start with drafting a set of claims. In fact, it is probably accurate to say that about 70% of patent attorneys start with the claims. There is nothing wrong with starting with the claims, and there is nothing wrong with starting with the written description, it is a matter of preference really. The claims will be what defines the exclusive rights that are ultimately granted, and many patent attorneys and agents think in terms of claims. The difficulty comes, however, when a set of claims are drafted and then the written description is drafted to match the set of claims crafted. When this occurs the written description is no broader than the claims, which means that there is no support in the written description for anything other than the claims originally filed. This is one way that some bargain basement providers operate, and it can be catastrophic for the unknowledgeable inventor.
One of the things that many inventors and entrepreneurs fail to understand is that claims can be added to an application even after the application has been filed. Whenever I tell inventors this they are almost always perplexed because they are typically familiar with the fact that you cannot add anything “new” to your patent application after it has been filed. This centers around the concept of what is considered “new matter.” There is an absolute prohibition on the addition of new matter after you file a patent application, but what is “new matter”? The answer is almost always a surprise.If an applicant amends or attempts to amend a pending patent application the issue of whether that which is being amended constitutes “new matter.” Typically what you want to do is add a claim not previously presented, so the patent examiner will endeavor to determine whether the claim you are adding constitutes new matter or whether it is acceptable to be added to the patent application. Information contained in the specification, claims or drawings of the application as originally filed may be added to any other part of the application without introducing new matter. What this means is that it is imperitive that at the time you file your patent application your application; namely your written description, drawings and claims be as in depth and detailed as possible.
You want to have a description of a very basic, vanilla version of your invention, you want to have many examples of optional features, elements and characteristics. You want to describe the Cadillac version of your invention. So you describe all the various combinations and permutations that you can think of, because if you don’t then you have no ability to claim them as your invention. By rigorously describing your invention and the various alternative versions it could take you create an extremely detailed disclosure at the time of filing, which will allow you to later add claims without those claims being new matter. If what you seek to add was disclosed anywhere in the text or in a drawing, even in passing, you should be allowed to add a claim based on that information without there being new matter. But how are you going to do this if you have a short textual description with few drawings?
By spending little and allowing the written description to be no broader than the claims that are filed you are making a huge mistake. The reason I always start with the written description is because I want to be able to have as thorough and complete a description of the invention in writing as possible. Then I go to work on the claims. Invariably, whether you start with the claims or you start with the written text, you will need to go back and forth iteratively. For example, after I write the text I start to work on the claims, then as writing the claims I will want to add certain things that might not be described as well as could or should in the text, so I return to the text to beef up the text. As I am beefing up the text thoughts come to mind for the claims, so I add that to the text to make sure its there, then return to the claims to add that information to the claims. Regardless of what you start drafting the application needs to be viewed as a unitary whole and that requires back and forth. It also requires that you stop working on the application for a while and come back to it. Just like anything in life, if you set it aside and pick it back up later you bring fresh eyes, a new perspective and the product becomes better. If you are paying $1,400 how many hours do you expect to get from the attorney or agent? How many days will they work on the application and come to it with fresh eyes and a new perspective?
When you file a patent application it is always necessary to file something that completely and clearly describes the invention so that others would be able to understand the invention. It is likewise important to file a patent application that explains the full glory of the invention. This is something a patent attorney can really help with. Invariably inventors will come and say they have invented X that does A, B and C. Upon review it might be noticed that with some minor alterations and enhancements the invention might not just be X, but it could morph into Y and Z, and could do D, E, F and G. If all you describe is X that does A, B and C, then you never get protection for Y and Z, or for D, E, F and G. Thus, one critical function a patent attorney can play is helping the inventor realize the full glory of the invention by working with the inventor to tease out variations and different versions of the invention. If you are not doing this type of brainstorming and just filing a short description with a few claims you are absolutely leaving on the table claims you could otherwise have obtained.
It takes time to prepare a detailed written disclosure that will support any number of claims, and there is just no way to rush it. Inventors and entrepreneurs intuitively know this, but they get lured into believing that what they get for $1,400 is just as good as what they would get if they paid $8,000, which is unrealistic of course. You cannot fall for what you want to hear when you deep down know it makes no sense. If you aren’t convinced ask yourself this: when you were in school and you had to write a paper for a grade, was the resulting paper better if you spent more time or less time working on the project? The reality is the more time you have to spend the better the work product. If you are not paying very much then you realistically cannot expect the same number of hours, nor can you expect the same level of quality.
I have a friend who works at a big law firm. He is one of the most sophisticated computer minds I have ever encountered. He charges between $900 to $1,000 an hour to work on a patent application, and he always has more work than he can handle. He represents large corporations who not only want patents but absolutely need patents because without them they really have no competitive advantage. These companies pay him this rate not because they like to overspend, but because he is THAT good. The truth is that those who have a specialized skill set charge more, and others who recognized the quality provided and know they need nothing less than top flight quality pay it. Now it is unrealistic for inventors or small businesses to pay those sums for patent work, but the story is not offered for that reason. Don’t fool yourself into believing that someone who charges $50 an hour is as accomplished as someone who charged $400 an hour or $800 an hour. If the person charging $50 per hour were as accomplished and could demand more wouldn’t they?
It is essential for inventors and entrepreneurs to treat their inventions from moment one like they will be the million dollar invention they have dreamed about, because if you don’t by the time you realize it is the million dollar invention it will be to late to do anything about. I preach about the need to set a realistic budget, investigate the prior art on your own first, work with crude prototypes, pieces and parts you have laying around in your garage. Inventors need to be frugal and continue to work in a fiscally responsible way. There will come a point in time, however, where things are shaping up and proving out. At that point you need to take steps to protect your invention, and you want to file an application with the most thorough and complete disclosure as possible. If your invention continues to prove out, becomes marketable and commercially relevant then you want to get a patent, and in fact you might want to establish a patent portfolio with multiple patents protecting various aspects of the overall invention. The reality is you will NEVER be able to do that if what you filed was a watered-down written disclosure that does nothing more than support the few claims you filed.
If a price like $1,400 is all you can afford that is one thing, but fooling yourself into believing you are buying a Cadillac, or a Ferrari when you are paying for a Yugo is ridiculous. In poker if you don’t understand the quality of your hand you get burned, and the same is true in the patent world. Spending all the funds you have for a patent that is extremely narrow and offers no opportunity to grow through the addition of claims that will later protect various aspects of your invention may not be in your best interest.