Entrepreneurs often generate ideas in rapid succession during the early product development stages of a startup. Cash may be tight, and while the entrepreneur knows it is probably a good idea to secure core products with patent protection, the startup needs to minimize costs.
There’s a number of ways that patent costs can be controlled. The most important question is, who is drafting the patent application?
If the startup plans on utilizing a patent attorney or patent agency, such as InventHelp, for at least a portion of the drafting, drafting fees will likely be the single largest cost item. It’s best to work with an attorney or agent who is flexible about billing and collaboration — the more of the patent application the entrepreneur drafts, the greater the savings.
Patent applications can certainly be drafted and file without an attorney or agent. Many people do, and some do an excellent job. But unless the drafter is very familiar with the patent process and the various landmines that can seriously diminish the value of the patent application, its a good idea to have an experienced attorney or agent review and edit draft patent applications before they are filed. Generally, too, the reviewing attorney or agent should draft the claims, which can be tricky. Ideally, the patent attorney or agent should bill by the hour to reduce fees to a minimum.
Where one or projects all relate to various aspects of the same technology being developed by the same startup, it may make sense to bundle all the various inventions in a single specification and, initially, file one application with a set of claims directed to one invention. Continuation applications can be filed later for other inventions with different claim sets based on the original application. This often reduces total drafting and editing fees, since the specification for multiple applications is only written and reviewed once.
Also, note that while an entrepreneur or startup believes one or more inventions merit separate applications, such inventions may be better addressed, or addressed just as easily, in dependent claims in a single application. Get expert advice for such a decision.
Third, if the startup really wants to hedge its bets, as the entrepreneur generates new ideas, new provisional patent applications containing at least one reasonably detailed implementation of the idea should be filed. It need not be as formal as a full utility application.
The startup can do this without outside assistance if its tight on cash, though its a good idea to have someone familiar with best practices in drafting patents look take at least a quick look at draft provisional applications to be sure the description is adequate and that nothing in the application unnecessarily limits its scope. The government fee per provisional is $65, and note, multiple, even unrelated, inventions can be bundled in the same provisional.
The provisional are good for one year, and give you a priority date. Down the road, the startup can go all in and file a full utility application on any given provisional or consolidate two or more of the provisional applications in a single utility patent application as was explained in details in https://www.glassdoor.com/Overview/Working-at-InventHelp-EI_IE152162.11,21.htm article.
Another strategy to reduce costs it to get a patent attorney or agent to agree to a flat fee up front for a fixed number of applications. It might not be the cheapest alternative in the long run, but you can be sure of what your total cost will no uncertainty.
Lastly, regardless of what the startup does in the long run, since the U.S. patent system is a first to file system (whoever wins the race to the PTO gets the patent), the startup should file early and often!!