Patent Attorney Mark Bergner provided the following five points that may help independent inventors control the cost of their patent application.
Many small inventors contact me for preparing a patent application and asking that costs be kept to an absolute minimum. Recognizing that most such inventors do not have a great deal of money, I usually offer the following advice:
1) Provide me with the best write-up that you can up front with some illustrative (even hand-sketched) diagrams, along with any design documents you may have.
Often, inventors will provide a one-page summary or a sales brochure of their invention that leaves out a significant amount of detail. It is going to drive up costs if I have to drag each and every relevant aspect of the invention out. Additionally, there may be ample design documents that are provided to me after a significant amount of work has already been done. It will take much more effort for me to integrate this newly added information with a nearly complete draft specification than it would have taken if all information had been provided up front.
2) Try to do as much of the work as you can yourself.
I tell clients that I am knowledgeable in patent prosecution, but generally not knowledgeable about the subject matter of the invention. It will cost considerably more if I am required to do extensive research in the field of the invention in order to fill in a sparse invention disclosure. I will often point inventors to a patent in their general field and suggest that the detailed description and figures shown in the patent provide roughly the level of detail needed for their patent application. While I am not expecting draftsman-quality drawings and use of the words "wherein" and "said" in their description, I am expecting something more than a 3-block single figure illustrating a complex client-server architecture.
Also, there are many inventors who are wonderful technical people, but simply cannot communicate well in writing (that's why they majored in physics and not journalism). It might be a good idea for such an inventor to work with someone (under a confidentiality agreement) who can write well to prepare an initial description. I had an inventor who enlisted the support of a graduate student at a significantly lower hourly rate than I charge. Although I can get all of the relevant information by talking with the inventor in person and over the telephone, if that is the sole means that I have of obtaining descriptive information, it is going to cost more. If the inventor has difficulty in communicating ideas and concepts both in writing and orally, it is going to be a very expensive patent application--no two ways about it.
3) Provide me with a nearly completed concept of the invention.
Nothing drives up costs more than to have the inventor continue to invent as the application is being drafted. One common issue: if a patent attorney does a good job with the subject matter, the draft of the patent application may be the first time the inventor has ever seen his idea expressed in such a clear and organized manner. This may spawn the inventor to come up with alternate embodiments or to provide other features that might prevent a design-around. While I generally expect some minor refinement of an inventive concept during the course of preparing the application, the addition of completely new or different embodiments will substantially increase costs.
4) Answer any questions provided in a draft clearly and completely.
Often I will prepare a draft application with a number of questions or comments, requesting clarification or additional detail. Some questions are intended to solicit lengthy responses, but only a bare minimum is provided or, worse, the information provided is completely non-responsive. Example: "You indicated that a series of messages flow between the client and server in order to implement the invention, but you have not provided any description as to what these messages are or what they contain. Can you please provide me with a detailed description of these, possibly with a table or diagram?" The entire reply received back: "The messages contain information that allows the server to act on client requests." Very often I have an inventor who promises to do most of the work themselves, only to put forth a minimal effort when asked to provide additional information.
5) The costs of obtaining a patent, even a relatively complex one, pale in comparison to the costs you will encounter in trying to commercialize your product.
I know I'm in trouble with an inventor if I throw out a fair cost estimate for preparing an application and the inventor breaks out in a cold sweat and starts suggesting a cost that is 50% of the estimate. It's one thing for an experienced business professional to haggle for lower costs, but in most situations involving the individual inventor, there is a significant lack of appreciation for what it will cost to do prototyping or pilot production runs, legal costs associated with non-disclosure agreements, trademarks, production and supply agreements, Underwriters Laboratories certification, FDA approval, etc. In the vast majority of cases, it is very expensive to bring an inventive idea to the marketplace, and the patent costs are typically a minimal part of those costs. If the inventor is not prepared for the entire undertaking, he is probably not going to willingly and cheerfully pay the bills, regardless of the quality and efficiency of the work done.