How to Patent an Idea for Free

At the genesis of all creation lies an idea – the very foundation upon which our world is built. Every innovation and breakthrough owes its existence to a spark of imagination. Suppose you find yourself in possession of an extraordinary idea for an invention or product that has the potential to revolutionize the market and bring you substantial rewards. 

If you have a brilliant idea that you want to protect and bring to life, you might be wondering how to patent it without breaking the bank. While patenting can involve costs, there are ways to explore patenting an idea for free or at minimal expense. 

In that case, the fear of someone else misappropriating or overshadowing your concept may naturally arise. To safeguard your interests, exploring the avenue of obtaining a patent emerges as a powerful method to secure exclusive rights to your invention or product. 

This article will delve into the process of patenting an idea for free, empowering you to protect your intellectual property from any infringements.

Types of Patents

Various patent types cater to diverse ideas and products, tailored to meet your specific requirements. It is possible to seek multiple patents to safeguard different aspects of an invention, necessitating separate applications for each type, like utility and design patents. Here are several patent options to consider for safeguarding your intellectual property:

Utility Patents

Utility patent is the most common type of patent and cover new and useful inventions or discoveries. They are valid for 20 years from the filing date of the utility patent application. During this period, the patent holder has exclusive rights to the invention, preventing others from using, selling, or making the patented product without permission. After the patent expires, the invention enters the public domain, allowing others to use it freely.

Design Patents

Design patents protect the ornamental design and appearance of a functional item. Unlike utility patents, design patents have a shorter duration. They are valid for 15 years from the date of grant, providing the patent holder with exclusive rights to the design. However, design patents do not protect the functionality or utility of the product.

Plant Patent

Plant patents are frequently employed by agricultural specialists and research scientists, as they pertain to unique plant discoveries or creations. These patents have a duration of 20 years from the filing date and do not necessitate regular maintenance fees. 

They empower the inventor or discoverer of the plant to shield it from unauthorized asexual reproduction, without the need for a licensing agreement with others.

Below are several criteria that a plant must meet to qualify for a plant patent:

  • The plant must be capable of asexual reproduction, resulting in offspring that are exact genetic duplicates or clones.
  • The plant cannot be a tuber-propagated plant, such as a potato.
  • The plant should not be found in an uncultivated state, meaning it cannot be a naturally growing plant.

Reissue Patent

In case of errors in a previously submitted utility, design, or plant patent, you have the option to apply for a reissue patent through the relevant government agency. This process allows you to rectify the mistake without altering the duration of the original patent protection. Moreover, a reissue patent can be sought if the original patent becomes invalidated for various reasons.

How to Patent an Idea for Free in 3 Steps

Let’s dive into how to patent an idea:

1. Pro bono programs 

A Pro bono program plays a significant role in supporting inventors and innovators who are passionate about protecting their ideas but may not have the financial means to engage in expensive legal services. These programs, often facilitated by intellectual property law firms and organizations, connect inventors with volunteer patent attorneys who offer their expertise free of charge or at substantially reduced rates.

The primary objective of the patent pro bono program is to provide access to legal assistance for inventors from diverse backgrounds, fostering a more inclusive and equitable innovation ecosystem. By offering their time and expertise pro bono, patent attorneys help level the playing field, ensuring that promising ideas from inventors with limited resources can receive the same legal support as those with more significant financial backing.

For inventors considering pro bono services, it’s essential to understand the scope of assistance these programs provide. While some pro bono attorneys may guide inventors through the entire patent application process, others may offer limited support, such as conducting prior art searches or reviewing patent applications. 

Nevertheless, even partial pro bono assistance can be invaluable, as it can help inventors navigate complex legal requirements and increase the chances of a successful patent application.

Eligibility for pro bono assistance may vary depending on the specific program and its criteria. Factors such as the nature of the invention, its potential societal impact, and the inventor’s financial need could influence the acceptance into these programs. 

In addition to patent-related services, some pro bono programs may also offer assistance in other aspects of intellectual property, such as trademark and copyright protection. 

It’s important to acknowledge that pro bono programs not only benefit inventors but also contribute to the larger legal community and society as a whole. Attorneys who volunteer their services gain exposure to innovative ideas and diverse projects, enriching their professional experience and broadening their understanding of various industries. 

Furthermore, by supporting inventors with limited financial resources, pro bono programs contribute to fostering a culture of innovation and creativity, encouraging inventors from all walks of life to pursue their dreams and make a positive impact.

2. Explore government assistance programs that promote innovation and technological progress

Exploring government assistance programs that promote innovation and technological progress can be a game-changer for inventors and entrepreneurs seeking to patent their ideas. These programs are typically established by governments to foster growth in key industries, encourage research and development, and drive economic advancement through innovation. 

By providing financial support and other resources, these initiatives aim to empower inventors and businesses to transform their ideas into tangible products or services that can benefit society.

One of the primary ways these government programs assist inventors is by offering subsidies or grants specifically designated for covering the costs associated with obtaining patents. The expenses involved in the patent application process, including filing fees, attorney fees, and other related expenses, can be substantial, particularly for small inventors or startups. 

Through these assistance programs, inventors may receive financial aid that significantly reduces the financial burden, making patent protection a more accessible and realistic option.

This can include mentorship programs, workshops, and networking opportunities that connect inventors with industry experts, potential investors, and like-minded peers. Such collaborations can be invaluable in refining ideas, developing business strategies, and gaining insights into the market, ultimately increasing the chances of successful commercialization.

In some cases, government initiatives may prioritize certain industries or technologies aligned with national development goals. For instance, renewable energy, healthcare, and information technology are often areas of focus due to their potential for positive social and economic impact. 

Many governments have dedicated websites or agencies responsible for managing and promoting innovation-related programs. By reaching out to these organizations, inventors can learn about the eligibility criteria, application procedures, and deadlines for securing support.

3. Crowdfunding 

Crowdfunding has revolutionized the way inventors and entrepreneurs can raise funds for their projects, including patenting their ideas. Online crowdfunding platforms have become popular hubs for connecting innovators with a vast audience of potential backers, creating a unique opportunity to secure financial support for their endeavors.

One of the key advantages of crowdfunding is the ability to present your idea directly to the public, reaching a global audience without the need for traditional investors or venture capitalists. By showcasing the potential of your invention and its impact, you can attract individuals who resonate with your vision and are willing to contribute to its realization.

Crowdfunding campaigns typically offer different tiers of rewards for backers, ranging from small tokens of appreciation to exclusive access to the product once it’s developed. This reward-based model not only incentivizes people to support your project financially but also builds a sense of community and engagement around your idea. 

Backers become more than just financial contributors; they become advocates and enthusiasts who are genuinely interested in seeing your invention succeed.

The Cost of Patenting an Idea: Required Investment

Acquiring a patent for your idea requires a significant investment, particularly as you must first develop a prototype before filing for protection. The financial commitment can vary based on the complexity of your concept, typically ranging from $10,000 to $25,000, with the process taking around 18 to 24 months in the United States.

However, the patenting process can be made more accessible by utilizing online legal services like LegalZoom. With their assistance, securing a utility or design patent becomes more manageable. They offer comprehensive support, including consultations with USPTO-registered patent attorneys, patent searches, technical illustration aid, application preparation, and electronic filing.

Moreover,LegalZoom facilitates the filing of provisional patents, granting you “patent pending” status for up to a year while you finalize the paperwork and defend your idea from competitors. Their provisional patent services begin at just $199 plus filing fees, making it a cost-effective option for inventors seeking to protect their ideas before obtaining full patents.

Restrictions on Patent Protection Over Time

Patent protection comes to an end upon patent expiration. Identifying the expiration date depends on the patent type and filing date. Below are the common expiration dates for various types of patents:

  • Utility patents filed before June 8, 1995: 20 years from the filing date or 17 years from the issuance date, whichever is longer.
  • Utility patents filed on or after June 8, 1995: 20 years from the filing date.
  • Design patents: 14 years from the issuance date (issued for ornamental designs of functional items).
  • Plant patents: 17 years from the issuance date (issued for fruits, seeds, and plants).

Acquiring a Patent

To obtain a patent, follow these steps:

  • Contact the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and submit a patent application.
  • The application undergoes examination by a patent examiner.
  • The examiner assesses if the invention meets the necessary standards and legal requirements for a patent.

Upon approval, the Patent and Trademark Office issues a patent certificate to the owner/inventor. After receiving the patent, the inventor must disclose the specifics of the invention’s creation and design, including its tangible application.

Patent vs. Copyright: Similarities and Differences


  1. Intellectual Property Protection: Both patents and copyrights are forms of intellectual property protection granted by law to inventors and creators to safeguard their creations from unauthorized use or reproduction.
  2. Registration Process: Both patents and copyrights require a formal registration process to obtain legal protection. The application must meet specific criteria and be approved by the respective government agency responsible for intellectual property rights.
  3. Limited Duration: Both patents and copyrights provide protection for a limited duration. Patents typically have a longer term, usually 20 years from the filing date, while copyrights last for the life of the creator plus an additional period, often 70 years.


  1. Subject Matter:
    • Patent: Patents protect new and useful inventions or discoveries, such as processes, machines, compositions of matter, and certain types of designs.
    • Copyright: Copyrights protect original works of authorship, including literary, artistic, musical, and other creative expressions fixed in a tangible medium of expression.
  2. Scope of Protection:
    • Patent: Patents grant the inventor exclusive rights to make, use, and sell their invention, providing a monopoly on the patented technology for the duration of the patent term.
    • Copyright: Copyrights grant the creator the exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, perform, display, and create derivative works based on their original work.
  3. Registration Process:
    • Patent: The patent application process involves submitting a detailed description of the invention, including how it works and its unique features, and often requires drawings or diagrams. The application undergoes a thorough examination before being granted.
    • Copyright: Copyright protection is automatic upon the creation of an original work. While registration with the copyright office provides additional benefits, such as the ability to pursue statutory damages and attorney fees in case of infringement, registration is not required for the work to be protected.
  4. Criteria for Protection:
    • Patent: To be eligible for patent protection, the invention must be novel, non-obvious, and useful. It must represent a new and inventive solution to a technical problem.
    • Copyright: Copyright protection applies to original works automatically when they are fixed in a tangible form. There is no requirement for novelty or inventiveness, only originality.
  5. Use Case:
    • Patent: Patents are often sought for inventions that have practical applications and can be commercialized to gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
    • Copyright: Copyrights are relevant for creative works, such as books, music, films, and software, where the focus is on protecting the expression of ideas rather than functional aspects.


Here are responses to frequently asked questions concerning patents:

Why is the patent filing date important?

The patent filing date is vital because it defines the date from which the patent application is assessed for novelty and non-obviousness. It establishes the “priority date,” which means that any similar inventions or disclosures made after the filing date will not affect the patentability of the claimed invention.

What is the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT)?

The Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) is an international treaty that provides a streamlined process for filing patent applications in multiple countries simultaneously. It is administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). The PCT allows inventors to seek patent protection in a large number of member countries by filing a single international application.

How can I patent my idea for free?

While patents themselves are not granted for free, there are cost-effective ways to pursue a patent. One option is to file a provisional patent application, which provides temporary protection at a lower cost than a regular patent application

Additionally, some regions or countries may offer reduced fees for individual inventors or small businesses. It is crucial to do thorough research and seek advice from legal experts before proceeding with the patent process.

Who is a patent attorney?

An attorney who specializes in intellectual property law, particularly patents, is known as a patent attorney. They are able to guide inventors through the challenging patent application procedure, develop patent claims, and guarantee that all legal requirements are completed.

After a patent is submitted, what happens?

After filing a patent, the next step involves engaging with potential investors or companies interested in licensing or purchasing the patent. It is not necessary to wait until the patent is officially issued to initiate these discussions. As soon as you have a filing date, you can begin seeking out contacts and exploring opportunities with interested parties.


Josh Fechter
Josh is the founder of The Product Company.