Answers to Commonly Asked Questions about Patents

In this section, you can find general information about what patents are and the benefits they offer the patent owner. You will also find specific information about the differences between a patent agent and a patent attorney.

Nothing in this section or any other part of this web site is to be construed as legal advice of any kind.  Readers of this web site are encouraged to seek competent legal counsel for their legal questions.

What does a patent do for me?

A patent gives its owner the right to exclude others from making, using or selling the claimed invention. Patent owners use this right to prevent competitors from copying their invention. If someone does copy the invention, they can be sued for infringement.

How can I earn income from my patent?

Patent owners often license their patents to others in exchange for some consideration, such as a license fee. License fees can be substantial. U.S. universities, for example, collect over a billion dollars a year in license fees for their patented inventions.

Do patents offer strategic business advantages?

Yes. Patents can help in the formation of alliances. Patent owners  with complementary inventions can form an exclusive alliance where they cross license each others patents and present a joint offering to the marketplace.Patents can also be powerful marketing tools. By claiming that you have patents in a particular area, you establish your organization as an authority in the field and put the competition on the defensive.

Are there any deadlines for filing a patent application?

Yes. For most countries of the world, you must file your patent application before your invention becomes public. In the United States, you have a one year grace period.The United States also requires that you file your patent application within one year of when you first offer your invention for sale. It doesn’t matter if anyone buys it or not. There are no extensions to any of these deadlines.

How much does a patent cost?

A U.S. patent will cost between $7,000 to $20,000 in preparation and patent office fees, depending upon how complex the invention is. Additional costs may be incurred as the patent application is prosecuted in the patent office. International patents cost about $5,000 to $10,000 for every country they are filed in.

How do I keep my costs under control?

All reputable patent agents and attorneys will provide a firm estimate of costs up front. In general, they will stick to those estimates unless something unanticipated comes up. At that point, make sure to get a revised estimate before proceeding.

How do I keep my up-front costs to a minimum?

Similar to a good tax strategy, a good patent strategy defers costs as much as possible consistent with you business needs. Filing an initial provisional patent application, for example, defers the bulk of your up-front costs for a year.

Does my US patent protect me overseas?

No. Patents are only effective in the country in which they are issued. You must file a corresponding patent application in every country in which you want patent protection.

What is a provisional patent application?

A provisional patent application is a simplified application that merely describes how to make and use an invention. It is less expensive to prepare than a full patent application and it gives inventors a year to assess the commercial value of their inventions before filing the full nonprovisional patent application. Having a provisional application also lets you say that your invention is “patent pending”.

How can I get my patent faster?

The fastest way to get a U.S. patent is to file it under the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s new Accelerated Examination Program. The patent office’s goal is to get a final determination to an inventor in a year. The normal process takes three or more years. There are potentially significant drawbacks to this new process, however. A thorough discussion of these drawbacks with your patent agent would be advisable before attempting it.

How do I protect my invention before my patent issues?

This depends upon your particular circumstance. Many inventors, however, put a nondisclosure agreement in place before discussing their inventions with someone before their patent issues.

Can I license my invention before my patent issues?

Yes. You you can license a pending patent application before it issues. A potential infringer has a choice. They can pay you a modest price now while your patent is still pending, or pay you a potentially much higher price when (and if) your patent issues later.

What is a patent agent?

A patent agent is a person licensed to represent clients in front of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. They are the only ones who can do so. Regular attorneys cannot. Patent agents prepare patent applications, file patent applications and negotiate with the patent office to get patents allowed. An attorney is not required.

What is the difference between a patent agent and patent attorney?

All patent attorneys are patent agents.  Patent attorneys also have a license, however, to practice other kinds of law, such as State law (e.g. NY, CT, CA etc.) or Federal law. Patent attorneys, for example, can file patent infringement lawsuits in Federal Court. Patent agents cannot. The U.S. patent office, however, makes no distinction between a patent agent and a patent attorney.

Why would I choose a patent agent over a patent attorney?

The most important factors in choosing either a patent agent or patent attorney is their experience in your field of technology and how well they communicate with you. Both are equally skilled in getting their clients strong, enforceable patents in a timely, cost effective manner.

How do I hire a patent agent/attorney?

Clients are often asked to sign a retainer letter and to pay a retainer fee. The retainer letter describes the services that the patent agent will provide and the obligations of the client such as full disclosure of the invention. The retainer fee is held in escrow and fees are billed against the retainer fee at an hourly rate.