Do You Need a Patent Attorney?

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Many inventors believe that they must use a patent attorney to get a valid patent. This isn’t true. First, the laws contain absolutely no requirement that one must have a patent attorney to file a patent application, deal with the PTO concerning the application, or to obtain the patent. In fact, PTO regulations (Manual of Patent Examining Procedure (MPEP), Section 707.07(j)) specifically require patent examiners to help ­inventors in pro se (no ­lawyer) cases. ­Second, and perhaps more persuasive, many hundreds of patent applications are filed and successfully prosecuted each year by pro se ­inventors.

A Layperson Can Do a Quality Job

The quality of a patent is mainly dependent upon four ­basic factors:

  • whether the patent application contains a full, clear, and accurate description that tells how to make and use the invention
  • whether the reach of the patent (technically covered in the patent “claims”) is as broad as possible, given the state of prior developments in the field
  • whether the application “sells” the advantages of the invention, and
  • how an applicant handles correspondence with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO).

Obviously, a patent professional who performs patent drafting on a regular basis will have an easier time creating a suitable application. However, many lay people have accomplished the same tasks using the book, Patent It Yourself.

Should You Do It Yourself?

The big question is, of course, even though many if not most inventors can file and handle their own patent application, should you do so on your own or hire an expert? After all, you probably hire people to do all sorts of things for you, from fixing your car to remodeling your kitchen, that you could do yourself. The most powerful incentive for patenting it yourself is the amount of money expert help costs. Or put another way, even though most car mechanics make a pretty good living, most of them can’t afford to ­belong to the same country club as patent attorneys. The cost factor alone may dictate your decision for you if you can’t afford the $5,000 to $15,000 most attorneys now charge to prepare a patent application on a simple invention.

On the other hand, if you’re fortunate enough to be able to afford an attorney and you either don’t have enough time to do it yourself, you don’t think you’ll be able to write a detailed description of your invention in conjunction with drawings (it’s easier than you think), you aren’t diligent and committed enough to complete projects in a reasonable time, or you think you can’t complete a detailed ­writing job in a fairly high-quality manner, then perhaps you should use an attorney in conjunction with Patent It Yourself, to monitor and enhance the attorney’s work.

The best answer for some inventors may be to do some of both. Using this approach, diligent inventors will do much of the patent work themselves, only consulting with an attorney at an hourly rate if snags develop, or to check the patent application before submission. 

If you'd like to talk to a patent lawyer, see Nolo's Lawyer Directory. You'll find profiles of local patent lawyers complete with pricing, practice philosophy, experience, and more.

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