Effective March 13, 2013, the U.S. Patent Office will allow solo inventors the ability to pay lower filing fees. At the time of this writing, for a "small entity" (less than 500 employees) the U.S. Patent Office filing fees are typically $533 - this is for 20 claims, with 3 independent claims. Each additional claim adds $31 to the price, and at issuance, an inventor typically pays $1185!
As a "micro-entity" you would be receive a 50% to 75% reduction most of these patent office fees.
What is a micro-entity? As with most government regulations, the answer can be complicated, but the most common example is below. All these requirements need be met:
- A person, or two inventors who file an application and do not assign or have a duty to assign the application to a company;
- Each inventor earns less than 3x the median income level for the United States - this translates into less than about $150,000/yr income; and
- This is no more than the 4th patent application in the United States, ever, for every named inventor
Unfortunetely, there are those who will try and pay the lower fee even if they do not qualify. Be warned - doing so may render your patent unenforcable, and certaintly, if you ever sue someone for patent infringement and pay the reduced "micro entity" fee, the other side will be sure to try to invalidate your patent. When in doubt, it is best to pay the higher fees.
Here's the announcement from the Patent Office: