After choosing the type of patent you want to apply for, you next need to decide whether to file the patent yourself or hire a patent attorney or agent to do it for you. You may want to consider getting help from a professional; there have been several cases in which an inventor filed his own patent only to see it get struck down in court. When it comes to patents, don't be penny-wise and pound-foolish.

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, it is recommended 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, think twice about using that attorney.

See our tip on Wednesday, December 20 for part 1 of this article.