Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Patents -- Where are the forms, and how much does it cost?

If you've ever done business with any government entity in the U.S., you've probably learned very quickly how things tend to go. In my experience, there are two components that define a transaction with any office affiliated with any government -- a form or several forms, and a nominal fee.

Need a dog license? Owe taxes? Want a passport? Fill out the paperwork, cut a check, and be on your way.

It follows, then, that I, as a sort of go-between for people and the USPTO, am very frequently asked where the forms for patents can be found and how much it costs to apply for a patent.

The forms are simple enough to find: we have or can get copies of all of the forms for photocopying here at the library, and all of the forms are available for download from the UPSTO website. It's important to remember, though, that filing a patent application involves much more than filling out a couple of forms. To quote the USPTO brochure A Guide to Filing a Utility Patent Application, "a patent application is a complex legal document." Click on the link to that brochure to get an idea of the parts of a complete utility patent application.

Estimating the cost of filing can be a little more complicated. Since no two patent applications are the same, the USPTO has created a sort of patent application menu, with different costs associated with different parts of the application.

To help you figure out how much you need pay, one of the forms that applicants need to fill out, called a Fee Transmittal, is a sort of checklist that you can match to the fee schedule (the official name for the menu referred to above).

If you take a look at the Fee Transmittal, it kind of resembles an income tax return -- you fill in certain values on certain lines, add or multiply other values depending on your application, then enter new values on new lines with new variables with the goal of arriving at a specific amount which you owe. (Unlike tax returns, you will always owe something.)

Also like your taxes, it's very important that you take the time to calculate your fees, check your calculations, then maybe check them again before sending in your application. If you make a mistake and send too little, you may have to pay a surcharge and your application prosecution may be delayed.

All of the above really only gives a taste of the process of applying for a patent, but my goal here, as at the reference desk, is to help people gather all of the information and materials necessary to start the process. I suspect that to many novice inventors, it comes as a surprise that there is more to obtaining a patent than filling out a form and writing a check.

It's worth noting, then, that there is plenty of help out there for people who are ready to apply for a patent and would rather not hire an agent or attorney to prepare the application. I've recommended before, and will continue to recommend, David Pressman's excellent Patent it Yourself, which walks you through all of the steps in great detail. The USPTO also has a very helpful customer service line; if you need help with your application, you can call 1-800-PTO-9199, then select option 2.

And, as always, you can get in touch with me or any of the librarians at the San Francisco Public Library Government Information Center.

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