Patents are a lot like incorporating: necessary for many business models, and intimidatingly complex to many business owners. Like incorporating, it’s possible to file your patent on your own. Whether or not that’s a great idea depends on a variety of factors with no 100 percent right answer for every given business.
If you’re facing this decision, we can’t give you a definitive answer, but here are the questions you should ask yourself.
- Do I Need a Patent?
This seems like an obvious question, but it requires more thought than you’d think. Not every invention needs a patent to move forward, and not every business model requires a patented new technology. Consider if you want a patent because it’s best for your company, or because you want to have a patent on your mental trophy shelf.
- How Complex is the Technology?
Filing for a patent will require you to explain the technology to a patent attorney. Most patent attorneys are sharp, but if your invention is extremely complex or based on esoteric knowledge, it might take longer to explain than to just write up the application yourself.
- How Well Do I Understand the Patent Process?
If you are totally unfamiliar with the patent process, it’s worth hiring an expert. Patents and business startups are both time-sensitive, and you don’t want to waste time learning how the process works. If you’re already familiar with the basics, you’re more likely to get it done quickly and correctly.
- Is Your Invention Protectable and New?
You’d be surprised how many patents get rejected because the invention is not patentable, or a similar device already exists. The exact details of what’s protectable and what constitutes “new” are almost as complicated as the patent process itself, but if your answer to this question is “no,” the question of hiring an attorney is moot.
- Am I a Skilled Researcher?
A successful patent application requires a great deal of research into current technology, similar filings and current case law. If you’re good with research, you can consider filing on your own. If you’re not a library sleuth, though, you should probably find somebody who is.
- Do I Have Enough Time?
It can take 7 to 21 days to do the legwork required to file a patent, then fill out all the necessary forms – and that’s not counting the time it takes to identify the information needed and which forms to fill out. Entrepreneurs are often time-starved. Does your temporal budget have the space for what amounts to a temporary second job?
- Do I Need the Extra Money?
Depending on how complex your technology and case is, a patent attorney can cost up to $16,000 plus fees for research. That’s not exactly chump change. Though the general consensus with patents matches the old rule of “you get what you pay for,” self-filing might be the better option for those with more free time than available funds.
- How are My Project Management Skills?
A patent application is a major undertaking, more similar to a product launch than filling out most government forms. If you’re already a top-flight project manager, then self-filing might be feasible. Not so if you delegate your organization or simply fly by the seat of your pants for most parts of your business and life. Speaking of delegation…
- Can I Delegate to a Team Member?
Many of these questions are about whether or not you have personal traits that make self-filing a good idea or a mistake waiting to happen. If your skills trend heavily toward the “mistake” side of the ledger, look at your staff. Is there a knowledgeable, organized, research-friendly project lead on your team who wouldn’t mind taking on a new challenge? Chances are excellent his time will cost less than a lawyer’s.
- Do I Anticipate Competition or Infringement?
Some patents are just a safety measure: you don’t anticipate anybody infringing on your idea, but you want it there just in case. If that’s the case, filing yourself has no drawbacks for this consideration. If you do anticipate trouble, hiring a patent attorney carries two powerful advantages: it makes the patent more likely to be air-tight and enforceable, and it gives you an existing relationship with somebody who understands your technology if you ever do have to go to court.
- How Did the Provisional Application Go?
A provisional patent application is like a warm-up for the real thing. It gives you a year of provisional protection for your invention while you get your ducks in a row. It’s also significantly shorter and less complicated than a full patent application. If you think you have the chops to file on your own, try the provisional application. If you’re still happy at the end of the process, you could be ready to do the full application on your own. If you’re burned out and stressed, it’s probably better to hire a pro for the big job.
If there’s a generally applicable rule for filing patents, it’s this: if there’s a tie, opt to have the expert file. But if you ask these questions and come up with a favorable result, you can protect yourself without the expense by filing on your own.
We want to hear from you. Are you going to hire a patent attorney or file yourself? Leave a comment below and let us know.