Bill Heinze of I/P Updates recently posted a note about “A Step-By-Step Guide To Getting a Patent,” which ran in the Wall Street Journal’s Startup Journal.

The article quotes a U.S. Patent Office spokeswoman as saying that 63% to 65% of applications are eventually allowed as patents, but then displays the following “reality check:”


I used to be in-house counsel at a major university handling a large patent portfolio and these numbers are no surprise to me. Very, very few inventions ever return a great ROI. What did shock me out of my chair was the quote in the Journal article that “This stage is also where the real money starts to pile up. A patent agent or attorney will usually charge around $2,000 to prepare a patent application.” Sure, maybe twenty-five years ago!

Granted, the article did give the caveat “but the price can go as high as $10,000 or even $50,000, depending on the attorney’s fees and the complexity of the invention.” But this does not erase the disservice of printing such a low estimate for “usually charge” — it makes it sound like any higher cost is only due to paying higher fees to some greedy attorney.

The AIPLA Report of the Economic Survey 2003, states that the typical charge for an “Original non-provisional application on invention of minimal complexity” was $5,504 in 2002 — more than 2-1/2 times the Journal’s estimate and this was three years ago. These kinds of articles get me fired up because they create such unrealistic expectations in the public. In complex, high-technology applications for chemical and biotech arts, patent applications run well over $10,000 to draft. There is just no way around it and it’s better to be blunt upfront than sorry afterwards.

You just know some inventor is going to go to a patent attorney and say “Hey, it should only be $2000 so you’re ripping me off.” I have clients who are really quite sophisticated who still think that a complicated invention should only cost $4-5000 because that’s the number they remember from a decade or two ago. It’s like saying a car should only cost $10,000 because that’s what you paid in the 1980’s. This doesn’t even get into all of the post-filing costs of prosecution, formal drawings, continuations, appeals, foreign filings, translations, and so on. I’ve had many inventions where the total cost ran far into the hundreds of thousands of dollars due to the complexity and the counties involved.

It doesn’t help anyone to create false hope in an unviable number. I think we should be able to expect better from the Wall Street Journal than this kind of (misleading) journalism.

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  1. That’s to bad that The Wall Street Journal is misinforming. But even still, $10,000 is a lot for a patent, especially for a start-up on a shoestring budget. If that cost is able to be brought down, I’m sure we would have more innovation and invention. But a lawyer’s time is valuable so I guess there’s not much we can do.
    I need a coffee!

  2. phosita ::: quick links for 2005-06-07

    DUI Defendants Skip Charge By Asking How Test Works – Could open source code really prevent drunk driving? Wall Street Journal Unrealistic on Patent Costs – Even in the “middle coast,” I think the prices quoted in the Wall Street Journal were…