For new inventors or scaling companies, the patent application process can be tricky and weighing the filing options can be even harder. On one hand, filing with an intellectual property lawyer can make the process much easier, but on the other hand, the attorney fees associated with filing patents can be daunting. How do you decide which is the better option?You should first have an understanding of the drawbacks and benefits.
Drawbacks of filing with a patent attorney
- Attorney fees - There is really only one drawback to working with an attorney to file for a patent and that is the high upfront costs. The upfront costs of filing patents with attorneys can range from $5,000 to easily over $16,000 depending on the complexity of the invention. While these fees are easy for established companies to incur, scaling companies or new inventors need to be very conscious of the ways they’re allocating capital and that cost can often be a hard pill to swallow.
Benefits of using a patent attorney
- Expert navigation - Filing for patents can be tricky because there are complexities to the process and law. Patent attorneys can expertly navigate through the patent application process on your behalf and can execute the steps more accurately. For example, an experienced patent attorney can likely search for prior art and find things that you simply don’t have access to. Or he/she can write the patent application in a way that is bulletproof, should the invention ever need to be protected. Lastly, patent attorneys know exactly when follow up actions need to be taken, so you don’t miss any important steps.
- Time savings - A patent attorney’s expertise also means that he or she can complete the process more efficiently. If you were to file on your own, you would need to spend upfront time learning the process and executing it. By having a patent attorney complete this process on your behalf, you can spend your time focusing on other critical objectives for your business.
- Peace of mind - Perhaps the biggest benefit of working with a patent attorney is having the peace of mind that the application was submitted with no mistakes. At the end of the day, there is a difference between having something done and having something done correctly. Filing yourself increases the chance that important gaps will be left, leaving your invention at risk of infringement. Patent attorneys know how to word patent applications so that in the event of infringement, your invention will be protected.
How do you decide which is right for you?
To determine which option is better for your unique situation, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you plan on commercializing this invention?
If you are inventing with the intent of commercialization, it is safer in the long-run to work with a patent attorney. In this instance, it’s better to be 100% sure your invention is protected in case of infringement. Remember to keep in mind long term value instead of just the upfront costs.
- Do you need to file a patent at this time?
If your invention is still very much in development stage and you are not working heavily with third parties (like manufacturers or investors) you may be able to wait to file a non-provisional patent and file a provisional patent, which can usually be completed on your own due to the more relaxed structure.
- Do you have any experience with patent applications?
Perhaps you’ve filed for patents on your own before or you’re a patent attorney working on a side project. In this case, if you already have experience navigating the patent system, you can likely safely apply for a patent application on your own.
- Do the pros outweigh the cons?
Evaluate whether the short and long term benefits outweigh the initial costs of attorney fees. For example, let’s imagine you are a company in its infancy working on a software product. A patent attorney has quoted $20,000 total to file for the patent on your behalf. If you were to file yourself, it would take ~4 weeks of time for you to learn the filing process, complete a prior art search, and draft the application while you still need to complete other priorities. If you’ve decided at this point that the savings is worth the upfront effort, let’s imagine 5 years down the road that someone has created a product with similar functionality. You take legal action for infringement, but find that your patent application has gaps and the competitor cannot be shut down. At this point, you have sunk costs in legal fees and future revenues are lost to your new competitor. The dollar value of this will likely exceed the $20,000 of upfront costs you might have used to file the patent correctly in the first place.
Ultimately, how you file for a patent application should be based off your long-term objectives for the invention and it’s important to keep that in mind while weighing upfront costs. What may seem like a fortune today could be minimal compared with value that a piece of intellectual property brings in long-term.