This is an excellent question. I hear this regularly. There is a great deal of misinformation, or should I say incomplete information, floating around on the internet on this subject. You also find the same misleading information in various inventor or entrepreneur publications.
Let’s break down the question carefully. First, as I recently read in one publication, the USPTO has granted tens of thousands of patents to inventors who filed their applications themselves and did not use the services of either a registered patent attorney or a registered patent agent. This is true. I believe for the most part the motivation of the inventor in filing their own application is primarily to save money. And I would agree that the independent inventor should file their own application, as long as the invention meets one clear requirement. That requirement is that the inventor does not intend to try and make a profit on the invention. If this is the case, it makes sense to try and save money by filing yourself. Why spend extra money hiring a professional for this job if your intent is not to make money with your invention?
However, if your intent is to protect your invention by using the patent procedure, and then market and sell your invention for a profit, then I must strongly disagree. You are making the grave error that many large businesses hope the small inventor will make. Here are a few facts to consider.
First, realize that the patent application procedure is the same for the small inventor as it is for the largest company. That means you are subject to the same procedural regulations as Microsoft, IBM and General Electric. I don’t believe anyone believes that these companies are not using highly paid professional registered attorneys and agents to do their patent filings. Remember, your invention is going to quickly become a product for sale or license. As such you will compete against other products, often owned by larger companies. Making the assumption you are successful, your product will eventually be taking business, and money, from another company, or companies, product line. These companies’ first step will be to see if your patent will provide you protection. Meaning, can they challenge your patent in court by filing to overturn your patent? Realize that patents are regularly challenged and overturned in the court system.
Or, the other companies can simply duplicate your product and start to sell it themselves, challenging you to file an infringement suit. Either way, they will have top notch legal representation, coming from professionals that are skilled in these procedures. And the independent inventor can be sure of one thing; he/she will be faced with some serious legal bills to defend their patent.
There are other aspects often overlooked when statistics are quoted on how many independent inventors file for, and are granted, patents. You rarely hear the statistics on how many of these inventors file their own applications and fail to get their patent approved. Often the failure is due to simple mistakes in the filing process. And often the system doesn’t allow these mistakes to be corrected. Therefore many inventors in effect lose the patenting rights on their invention by mishandling the application procedure.
You also rarely hear the statistics on how many of these inventors who filed their own applications and were granted a patent ever made any money on their invention. If the invention/product never makes any money, the patent will rarely be challenged. Therefore the value of the patent is negligible at best. May look good hanging on the wall, right next to the singing fish, but that’s about it.
Finally, realize that the USPTO itself recommends using registered patent attorneys or agents to file your application (see the USPTO website’s FAQ’s). They know first hand the complexity of a patent application, as well as the potential value of gaining exclusive ownership rights.
Giving these facts, if an inventor is serious about making money with his/her invention, better to spend the extra money and have a professional draft your application. If I were an inventor selling a profitable invention/product, I’d like to think that the patent I rely on to protect it will stand up to legal scrutiny if necessary. That way hopefully these other companies will offer to buy or license my patented invention, rather than contest my patent in court, with all the associated legal expense and headaches.
That’s why I recommend using a professional for the job.