If you choose to file your own patent application, your minimum expenditures will be the filing fees and costs associated with drawings and document preparation. Assuming you are filing as an individual or a small entity (as opposed to filing as a corporation), the filing fees are as follows:
Design patent: $165
Utility patent: $395
If you're filing a utility patent, the PTO requires you to pay maintenance fees throughout the life of your patent to keep it active. Those fees are:
Due at 3 1/2 years: $525
Due at 7 1/2 years: $1,050
Due at 11 1/2 years: $1,580
Hiring a patent attorney or agent to file your patent for you will increase these costs. And since their fees vary widely, I recommend you interview several attorneys or agents and get an estimate of the total costs from each. Patent filing is fairly straightforward, so each attorney you contact should be able to give you an estimate. If he or she can't, I recommend you not use that attorney.
Every two years, the American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA) surveys its members to see what they're charging for basic patent services. Last year's survey revealed the following ranges:
Design patent application: $500 to $1,000
Utility patent application (fairly straightforward): $3,000 to $5,000
Utility patent application (relatively complex, i.e., computer hardware, biotechnology, etc.): $5,550 to $10,000
These ranges don't include costs for drawings, patent searches or filing fees; they reflect only the attorney's time. Also, keep in mind that these ranges don't include follow-up work the attorney might have to do for you.
According to the industry standard, more than 90 percent of all patents receive at least one office action (a communication regarding your application from the patent examiner). Most of the time such office actions describe problems with the application that must be addressed before the PTO can proceed with the patent. Every patent application I've filed received at least one office action to which my attorney had to respond. These actions will further drive up your costs--and there's no way to know how many office actions will be issued on your patent application.
Before filing a patent, it's wise to perform a patent search. This search (usually conducted by a professional) reviews all existing patents to determine if your idea is unique. It's also a good idea to have a trained patent attorney analyze the search results and give you his or her opinion on your idea's patentability. Additionally, almost all patent applications require drawings that conform to stringent specifications; ask an expert draftsperson to help you with this.
Here are ranges for these additional costs:
Patent search: $175 to $250
Patent search, analysis and opinion: $650 to $1,200
Professional drawings: $75 to $250 per page
The bottom line: A basic design patent application with the help of an attorney or agent is going to cost you approximately $1,000 to $3,000. With an attorney's help, a utility patent application (without maintenance fees) will cost you anywhere from $4,000 to more than $12,000.