What are the steps and costs involved to obtain a patent?
Typically, the patent process begins with a patentability search to determine whether there are any clear obstacles to obtaining a valid patent. A patentability search typically covers prior patents and published previously filed patent applications, and can be extended to consider non-patent references as well. A patentability search does not guarantee that a patent will be obtained, but does provide an assessment of whether there are any prior devices or processes that are so similar that filing a patent application would likely not be worthwhile. The cost of conducting a patentability search varies based on the technology involved and the number of references to be reviewed, but costs on the order of $2,500 to $5,000 and up can be expected.
The second step in the patenting process involves preparing and filing a patent application. A patent application must be filed in each country in which patent protection is sought, although there are options for deferring some of these costs (see our primers on provisional patent applications and international patent filing for more information). We work with our clients to develop patent filing strategies that are sensible having regard to their business goals and available financial resources and this requires careful consideration in each specific case, but costs in the tens of thousands of dollars should be expected. As a starting point for protecting a new technology, a provisional patent application can be prepared and filed starting at a cost of $5,000 and up. A regular U.S. patent application for a straightforward mechanical technology can typically be prepared and filed at a cost of $10,000 and up. Costs in other technical fields are generally higher.
After the patent application is filed, the application will be examined. During examination, a patent examiner will analyze the application to ensure compliance with the relevant laws and rules. The examiner will conduct a search for relevant prior art, and will raise any objections the examiner considers appropriate. After any such objections are overcome, the application will be allowed, and typically an issue fee must be paid for the patent to be granted. The cost for the examination stage is highly variable depending on the nature and number of objections raised by the patent examiner. For a regular U.S. patent application for a straightforward mechanical technology, a reasonable minimum budget for examination would be about $5,000.
Maintenance fee payments are also required in order to keep a patent (and sometimes pending patent applications) in force. In Canada, maintenance fees of a few hundred dollars are due on each anniversary of the filing date of the application, beginning on the second anniversary. In the United States, maintenance fees of a few thousand dollars are due at 3.5, 7.5 and 11.5 years after grant of patent. Maintenance fees increase over the life of the patent.