The United States Constitution grants an inventor the exclusive rights to an invention for a limited amount of time. The most common type of patent is called a utility patent with rights that last for 20 years. The other types are design and plant with shorter time periods.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is the government agency that maintains and registers patents. The application process has very strict legal and technical requirements. Federal examiners will analyze the application and may reject an inventor's request for failure to follow these guideliness or if the invention isn't patentable, such as being too similar to another patent already registered.
The primary requirement to obtain a patent is full public disclosure of how the invention works, is made, how it is used, and why it is innovative. For example, drawings are used to graphically describe the invention.
You don't need a patent. However, you cannot profit from another patent (infringement). If your idea is profitable, somebody else will infringe your product.USPTO Registration Fees:
Inventors (applicants) are classified according to three fee structures: standard, small entity, and micro entity.
A small entity refers to an applicant who did not assign away their rights and are not required to do so, such as through employment agreements. A small business with fewer than 500 employees also qualifies. The fees for a small entity are reduced by 50%.
A micro entity refers to an applicant that qualifies as a small entity with additional requirements for a 75% reduction in fees. A special form is required to prove micro entity status. This criteria inclues that the applicant did not file more four previous U.S. patent applications and the inventor's gross income for the calendar year preceding the year the application is being submitted did not exceed the Maximum Qualifying Gross Income which is equal to three times the median household income reported by the Bureau of the Census. This applies to both inventors, applicants, and those with an ownership interest. There is also an exception for institutions of higher education.
The application consists of three separate fees: filing, search, and examination.
Filing Fee: $280 (standard), $70 (small), and $70 (micro).
Search Fee: $600 (standard), $300 (small), and $150 (micro).
Examination Fee: $720 (standard), $360 (small), and $180 (micro).
If you qualify as a micro entity, the total application fee for a utility patent is $400.
If the application is granted, there is an issue fee: $960 (standard), $480 (small), and $240 (micro).
The 20 year patent right has three renewal periods called maintenance fees. The first is due after 3.5 years for a cost of $1,600 (standard), $800 (small), or $400 (micro). The second is due after 7.5 years with a cost of $3,600 (standard), $1,800 (small), and $900 (micro). The final is due after 11.5 years for $7,400 (standard), $3,700 (small), and $1,850 (micro). You don't have the renew the patent, which means it will expire after either 3.5, 7.5, or 11.5 years.
There may be additional fees throughout the process in addition to the primary application and renewal costs.