Q: Is it ethical for a patent attorney to never tell you how much its going to cost, write less than 4 pages out of 66 (
the rest being my provided words and drawings or lifted verbatim from the prior art patent [including the 1 and only claim] trying to differentiate from) and then charge $15k plus filing fees?
I am so sorry that you have had a bad experience with your patent attorney. Ideally, there is an open flow of communication going back and forth.
It is often hard to give a precise estimate, especially with a new client as the costs to prepare a patent application will vary with the complexity of the material to be explained, the quality of the disclosure material and related materials, the number of drafts needed to get things right, the number of drawings and embodiments to discuss and other factors. Ideally a range of likely costs should have been discussed at the front end and updates provided if there was a change of scope (like adding several embodiments when the estimate was based on a sole embodiment or some other complication that meant more work to do the job right).
Fifteen thousand dollars is a substantial amount of money and many patent applications can be written for less than that (sometimes much less) but it is not unheard of for a patent application to cost in that range. It sounds like your patent attorney was doing some work to review and understand the prior art. That can lead to hours spent that increase the cost of the project and ideally increase the quality of the application as there is no point filing an application that claims exactly what has been claimed before. On the other hand, you were not paying the attorney to merely summarize the work done by others so if you think the proportion of effort to summarize the prior art was out of balance with the work spent describing your innovation, you should have that conversation. Sometimes the best way to get a patent allowed quickly is to set it up as a very focused improvement to a prior invention. In that case, you do spend more time talking about the prior invention than would be done in a more traditional application.
Ideally, your patent attorney has provided a detailed invoice indicating the time spent on each task each day so that you can see what was done with some level of granularity. You should understand the billing rates of each person that worked on the application. Check carefully to ensure that a time charge for some other project was not inadvertently placed into your bill.
Feel free to contact your patent attorney to get a better understanding of why it cost so much and ask whether an adjustment in the bill would be appropriate.
I hope that this helps.
Kevin E Flynn
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