Prior to filing a patent application, most applicants pay attorneys to conduct a preliminary patent search. The attorney will survey patents that make related claims and issue an opinion on the patentability of the applicant's idea. Patent search costs vary widely depending on the invention and the attorney. After an inventor files a patent application, the patent examiner will conduct a patent search of her own, and may request revisions or reject the application based on her findings.
Millions of patents exist, some for very small ideas and some for industry-changing inventions. Of these millions, industry and commerce use only a fraction. A patent search is a detailed process in which an attorney or patent examiner goes through patent databases and figures out what parts of existing patents are related or similar to the invention in question. He then determines whether or not the similarities violate the existing patent. Patent attorney Gene Quinn states that no matter how original the invention, there is an existing patent that is in some way related to the unpatented invention.
Patents cost thousands of dollars in attorneys' fees and U.S. Patent Office fees to obtain. A preliminary search surveys the existing technology to determine if the invention is patentable, and exactly what parts of the invention are patentable before the inventor spends thousands of dollars preparing and filing the application. Furthermore, a patent search gives the applicant an awareness of related technology that reduces the need for revisions further along in the process.
Upon receiving a new application, the first thing that the patent examiner does is conduct a search. If the patent examiner finds that the application's claims are too similar to an existing patent, the patent examiner will request a revision. If the invention's primary claim is too similar, the patent examiner has the authority to reject the claim on the basis of "prior art."
Preliminary search costs depend on the attorney and the invention. The American Patent and Trademark Law Center states that its fees start at $750 for a simple search, while IP Watchdog charges $1,600, as of 2010. The U.S. Patent Office, on the other hand, has a fee schedule that is updated annually. The Office also charges a search fee, and the amount varies depending on the type of patent and the entity applying. (Individual inventors and small firms get a discount.) In 2010, search fees ranged from $50 to $540.
Do It Yourself
You cannot waive the patent examiner's search or related fee, but you can forgo the preliminary search by an attorney. The U.S. Patent Office has a searchable online database that is free to the public. However, forgoing the preliminary search increases the likelihood of requested revisions and rejections.