How much does a patent search cost – and save?

Most people reading this have an interest in patent searching. I remember the first time, working as a development engineer, I was asked to search the patent literature. This was a long time before the advent of readily available online searching, and so I found myself reading through a printed collection of relevant patents. I was fascinated that this vast collection of information was available to me, and many years later I still am.

Nonetheless, all of us have clients or managers and need to justify what we do. So how can justify the cost of a patent search?

First of all, what is the cost of a patent search? We can break down the cost into different components

Cost of access to patent search databases. This can range from zero for some databases such as Google Patent, Espacenet and Patent Lens, up to tens of thousands of dollars quoted for an annual subscription to some commercial databases. 

Cost of outsourcing patent searches. A variety of third parties can help search the patent literature – they typically charge from about US$500 upwards, up a few thousand for complex searches. Detail analysis and landscaping can cost more on top of this.

Cost of employee or professional time need to arrange the search, and review the results  – regardless of whether you do the search yourself or outsource it. IP service industry professionals such as patent attorneys and lawyers can charge up to several hundreds per hour. The hourly cost of corporate employers may be harder to estimate, but can be significant once salaries and on-costs are added. In fact we might assume that the hourly rate of service industry professionals may be not that far from the true cost of a senior corporate employee.

This is perhaps the hardest thing to evaluate. It takes time to set up a project objective, and to write a query if you are searching yourself. It then takes time to review the results. This time can range realistically from 30 minutes up to several days or more. This upper end is very realistic – I have spoken to a number of patent examiners in my time, who are professional patent searchers with powerful databases, and these are the figures they gave. 

So let’s try to put a cost on this. Lets say a professional or corporate employee is worth around $200 per hour. A two hour search will cost $400, and a two day search say of 6 hours per day will cost $2400. Outsourcing could potentially reduce this, but an outsourced search that may cost $1500 will perhaps still take two hours to arrange and review, leading to a total cost of $1900. 

So a patent search can easily cost between $400 and several thousand dollars in employee time.

But what is the return on this search? How much does this patent search save?

The savings can be enormous:

The cost of avoided R&D. A typical new product may take at least a week to develop or even just to think about. 40 hours at $200 per hour comes to $8,000, but really this is just the start of the costs. A patent search may be able to help avoid unwanted development costs by identifying existing solutions that could be adapted.

The cost of inadequately prepared patent applications. Dealing with a single unexpected prior art objection in a search report can easily cost several thousand dollars in attorney fees. If the attorney had known about the prior art in advance, they may have been able to prepare something in the specification or claims that would have helped minimise or avoid the examiner objection.

The cost of patent applications that have no or little chance of being granted. We all have heard stories about patent applications that may have cost thousand to prepare, and many more thousands were invested in PCT or national phase applications – and then the knockout prior art document was discovered. All of this investment (which can easily exceed $15,000 if not not much more) is lost, and being a public process this may be embarrassing for the applicant as well.

The cost of poor commercial decisions. A patent search not only reveal prior art from a novelty viewpoint, but also provide valuable information about how many existing solutions are out there. Maybe somebody else has developed something similar? And clearly been unable to make any money on this? Maybe that somebody else is a large corporate or Non Practising Entity with deep pockets, and a reputation for aggressively protecting their ‘patch’. This cost can be enormous – $100,000 or much more could be easily spent on a failed commercialisation project.

Alternatively a good patent search can provide valuable commecial guidance on where the best prospects are in your field, or who the best companies are to work with.

All of a sudden, the cost of a patent search starts to look very cost-effective, and a very prudent investment compared to the potential cost of not doing this.

Nonetheless, this does not mean that the cost of patent searching should be ignored completely.

This is why Ambercite has developed Cluster Searching, to minimise this cost. A Cluster Search can take seconds to run, requiring only knowledge of some existing patents in the field (which can be easily obtained from a variety of free or subscription patent databases). The results in a Cluster Search are sorted in order of likely relevance.  A number of previous blogs show just how fast and easy Cluster Searching can be, including its ability to: 

Because Cluster Searching is so fast and easy to use, there can be significant  cost savings due to: 

Less costly employee or professional time needed to prepare or review a search. Queries are very easy to write, and the results presorted in likely relevance for your convenience. This means much less costly time is spent on patent searching. 

Less need to outsource – because Cluster Searching is to easy to use and learn, you can run your own searches. You can obtains results in seconds, and avoid the cost and time delay of outsourcing

Much lower price compared to some other subscription databases – we are happy to discuss our pricing directly with prospective clients. 

A sample output from a Cluster Search is shown below – the results are presented in order of likely relevance to the original search query for a Tesla patent application.




A patent seach can cost thousands of dollars – and save up to hundreds of thousands in avoided costs in a variety of ways

Cluster Searching can reduce the cost of searching by providing a ranked list relevant results in seconds from queries that are very easy to set up, so reducing the cost of valuable employee or professional time 


Want to try Cluster Searching for yourself?

Cluster Searching is a very fast and easy to use web application. Free demonstrations and confidential trials are available to qualified applicants – please contact us to arrange a short demonstration and trial. You may be surprised (and impressed) by just how much time and money you may save.

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