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Need-to-Know Patent Information: The Bottom Line for Small Businesses

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Need-to-Know Patent Information: The Bottom Line for Small Businesses

By NicoleD
Published: July 7, 2010

Compared to their big-business counterparts, small businesses are especially vulnerable to patent infringement because they may lack the knowledge, expertise or resources necessary to prevent the theft of their invention. Use this guide to navigate the application process, understand costs and fees, and identify financial assistance opportunities available for small businesses.

Do;t dismiss patent protection
A patent signifies the granting of property rights to the inventor of a new, useful and non-obvious invention. Having patent protection means that others ca-t make, use, sell, or offer to sell your invention in the United States or import your invention into the United States.

While patent infringement affects all American businesses, small businesses are at a significant disadvantage because they may lack the knowledge, expertise or resources necessary to prevent the theft of their invention. Learn how to protect and sell your unique idea on Business.gov.

Particular industries, including manufacturing, consumer goods, technology, software, and biotechnology, are hit the hardest by intellectual property (IP) theft. Small importers and exporters should also take precautions to protect their property- the U.S. Department of Commerce warns that any small business that exports its IP-protected products abroad or sources its products or parts overseas must take into account the potential for rampant intellectual property theft in many countries. For more information and statistics on the impact of intellectual property theft, visit the Department of Commerc's website, Stopfakes.gov.

The application process
To protect your invention in the U.S., file a patent application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). There are three types of patents that you can apply for based on the nature of your invention - utility patents, design patents, or plant patents. Business.gov provides a Small Business Guide to Intellectual Property for details on how to get a patent, a summary of the types of patents, and frequently asked questions on the application process.


The USPTO determines whether an application meets the requirements for federal registration. The application process is complex, and almost all experts recommend that patent-seekers retain the services of a registered patent attorney or patent agent to prepare and prosecute their applications.

Patent costs and fees
The USPTO maintains a fee schedule of patent application costs on their website. However, keep in mind that there is no set price tag for a patent. The cost to obtain a patent will depend on several factors, including the complexity of your invention and the type of patent you are seeking.

Generally speaking, patent-related expenses include the cost of preparing the patent, patent office work, and legal costs related to the application. You are't required to hire a lawyer, but most inventors do use the services of either a patent agent or an attorney. Once your patent is granted, yo'll pay renewal fees to maintain an active status.

In the event that someone steals or violates your patent, you make the decision to prosecute, and are responsible for legal fees associated with the cost of prosecution.

Financial assistance for small businesses
Some financial assistance is available for small businesses, mainly in the form of reduced fees. If a patent-seeker qualifies as a small entity (e.g., an independent inventor, a small business, or a non profit organization), patent filing, issue and maintenance fees are reduced by half.

Technology and innovation grants may be available to help offset research and development costs. Several federal programs provide scientific research and development (R&D) grants to small businesses. There may be opportunities in your state as well - contact your stat's economic development agency or a local university research program to find out about programs they may offer.

Have more questions?

  • Call the USPT's Inventors Assistance Center (IAC). The IAC provides patent information and services to the public. The IAC is staffed by former Supervisory Patent Examiners and experienced Primary Examiners who answer general questions concerning patent examining policy and procedure. The IAC can be reached by telephone at 800-786-9199 or on the web.

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