What You Can Patent
A patent provides you with the right to keep others from making and selling your invention for up to 20 years. The most common type of patent, a utility patent, protects rights in new and useful processes, machines and other things. These patents also can protect rights in non-obvious improvements made to existing things. To determine if your invention is patentable, you must first research all previous patents and other publicly disclosed inventions to ensure that no one else has already patented something similar. Because this process can be difficult and complicated, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office recommends hiring a registered patent attorney to conduct the search for you.The Patent Classification System
Patents are organized by class and subclass of invention , similar to the way books are organized in a library). By using the classification system , you can find and examine patents that are in the same field (class) as your idea. The tutorial How to Conduct a Patent Search will introduce you to this form of searching, however, this is difficult material to master.Direct-Hire Professional Search
If you want to save lawyer fees and mark-ups, consider going directly to a patent search firm. Searchers are best found through inventor grapevines, inventor associations, or university intellectual property departments. In larger cities, you can also check the Yellow Pages under "patent searchers." But be careful not to fall into a trap set by some disreputable invention marketing organizations. They list themselves in the phone book under "patent searchers" with a toll-free number. This is another way they hook unsuspecting inventors into service contracts. Get all the facts up front. Some reputable searchers ask for money up front if they don't know you. This is understandable. Just be sure you get the cost of the search beforehand, and get—and check—references. The cost to search a utility patent in the Washington, D.C., area runs between $500 and $1,000. It is roughly $100 per hour for a competent search. Once the search has been completed, if you want to obtain an opinion on the patentability of your invention, add the cost of your lawyer. If you need to show a prospective licensee that your invention has a good shot at a patent or that it's unlikely to infringe on an existing product, a letter from competent patent counsel may do the trick.Patenting and USPTO Patent Applications - What is a patent? What kinds of patents are there? What is the USPTO?
Some people may confuse patents, copyrights, and trademarks. Although there may be some similarities, they are different and serve different purposes. Read What Do I Need? or Understanding Intellectual Property if you need to understand the differences better. Patents and trademarks are both issued by the USPTO.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.