Patent Attorney Directed Search
Going through a lawyer to search patents will cost the least amount of time and the most money. Patent attorneys employ professional researchers. You hire the attorney, and the attorney gets someone to conduct the search. Then the attorney adds a mark-up to the search bill, sometimes as much as several hundred percent. Many lawyers cloak this in the term handling fee. To save this extra expense, some inventors hire their own researcher or do the search themselves. Most patent attorneys don't render an opinion based on a search conducted by anyone other than their own searcher. However, you can tell a lawyer that if they won't accept the work of your search firm, or searches done by yourself, you will go elsewhere where such work would be acceptable. If you're paying the bills, and you're willing to take the risk, the lawyer shouldn't have a problem. Now, if the search results show no prior art in my field of invention, you don't need an attorney to tell me the coast is clear. Conversely, if a search reveals prior art that's spot on your invention, you don't need an attorney to tell me my idea has been done before. You might, on the other hand, hire an attorney to help end-run an existing patent through the use of language in the application. If you hire a lawyer, get a quote in advance. The fee will be based on how all-encompassing you want the search to be.USPTO Fees
The USPTO charges fees at every step of the patent process and these fees are the only fixed cost in the process. The USPTO charges a required $330 to file an application, $540 for a search, $220 for an examination, $1,510 to issue the patent if it passes the examination, plus $7,750 in maintenance fees over the 20 years that the patent is in force. Hence, the total to file and go through the process is $1,090, but the total to receive the patent and keep it in force is $10,350. Note that independent inventors and small businesses receive a 50 percent discount on fees but that the USPTO charges more for extra or late paperwork.How to Conduct a Patent Search
To get a basic understanding of patent searches read Searching For Students and in particular read Searching Using Key Words . It was written for students; however, if you can look past the cute language it will quickly get you reading and searching patents online within minutes. It will not be enough to do a diligent (complete) search for prior art by only using the Internet. For that you would need to understand the patent classification system and be prepared to do days or even weeks of research.Attorney Fees / Invention Complexity
The USPTO, IP Watchdog and every patent law firm strongly recommends that inventors hire a patent agent or attorney to prepare the application. IP Watchdog reminds inventors that not only is the process confusing, but a patent is a legal document that uses the language found in the application and patents can only be protected in court, where every word in the document matters. IP Watchdog reports that the median cost of a patent attorney is around $250 an hour, higher in urban areas (Quinn suggests hiring an experienced attorney that works in an area with a low cost of living as a way to control costs, as opposed to hiring an inexperienced attorney). Quinn states that, depending on the complexity of the invention, attorney fees for conducting a search and preparing an application with drawings usually run between $7,000 and $15,000. The more complex an invention, the longer the attorney spends researching related patents, writing up a detailed description and outlining exactly what the patent should protect. Drawings also take longer the more complex the invention is, and USPTO rewrites can be more difficult.Non-Provisional Application
Although you can convert a provisional application into a non-provisional application, the USPTO recommends filing a separate non-provisional application that references the earlier provisional one. Doing so can extend the time your invention is protected by up to one year. A non-provisional application includes a lengthy written document with a description of your invention and all the things you claim you invented, as well as drawings, an oath or declaration and fees for the filing, research and examination of the application. The USPTO recommends using a registered patent attorney to draft and file your non-provisional application. USPTO regulations include specific requirements for the format of applications and the necessary drawings -- and examiners reject applications that don't meet these requirements.