Deciding whether or not to patent your invention is a big decision. Going through the patent process can be time-consuming, costly, and complex; foregoing the patent process can mean risking monetary losses down the road if someone copies your invention.

If you do decide to seek a patent for your product, one way to cut down on the complexity of the patent process is to hire a patent attorney. But how do you find a reputable one? It’s not as if patent attorneys take out huge ads in magazines or on websites. And once you do find one, how do you know whether what they’re offering and what they’re charging is standard for the industry?

Here are a few pointers when it comes to finding a good patent attorney.

If you haven’t already, join a local inventor’s group.

Thanks to Facebook, MeetUp, and Twitter, it’s pretty easy these days to find inventors’ groups near you. These groups can offer a great support system for even experienced inventors, and chances are you’ll be able to get at least one or two good patent lawyer references from the members.

Another good resource is the United Inventors Association of America, which offers tons of information and resources for independent inventors.

Make sure you’re seeking patent lawyers who have the right expertise for your product.

For most products, any patent attorney will have the expertise they need to help you with your patent.

However, if you’re working in a specialized field like medical technology or software, you should work with an attorney who has specific knowledge and experience in your field.

Get cost estimates or bids up front.

Filing a patent can be an expensive process even if you don’t use the services of a professional. In general, depending on the complexity of your product, the costs of a patent search will range from $1,000-$3,000, with patent filing fees coming in on top of that.

A patent attorney, on the other hand, can cost from $5,000 to $15,000 and up (these costs also depend on the complexity of your product idea). What’s more, costs can grow during the process, so you need to make sure you’re totally comfortable with the amount that your attorney quotes you at the start.

Just as you would with any other service, you may want to talk to several attorneys and get quotes from each before you settle on someone.

Don’t be afraid to look outside your region.

Since patent law is regulated by the federal government, not the states, your lawyer doesn’t have to be located in the same city as you are. And since there’s virtually nothing they’ll need from you that they can’t get via a phone, email, or videoconference session, as long as they’re in the U.S. you should be fine.

This can help you cut down on legal fees, as well, as lawyers in regions like the South, the Midwest, and the Southwest can often be less expensive than those who work in big cities like New York or Los Angeles.

Read the patents your potential lawyer has written.

You wouldn’t hire a housepainter without seeing some of the work they’ve completed. In the same sense, you shouldn’t hire a patent attorney without reading some of the patents he or she has filed. You want to make sure that the invention is clearly, concisely described, and that it’s defined broadly enough to prevent infringement.

IP Watchdog explains this last point well:

“For example, if you describe an invention as always having elements A + B + C + D and then someone makes virtually the same thing but leaves D (or any of the other elements out) they couldn’t possibly be infringing. Why? Because the invention was too narrowly described.”

Look at the pros and cons of working with a firm versus an independent attorney.

When deciding whom to hire as your patent attorney, you need to understand the pros and cons of going with a large firm as opposed to an independent attorney.

Both offer strong benefits. Large firms have a wealth of resources and expertise, so you can feel fairly confident of having all your legal needs met under that one roof. They also cost more to hire.

Independent attorneys can be less expensive, and you’re assured that your work will be handled personally by that one attorney. However, you may need to bring in extra professionals down the road if there are other legal matters that arise.

A good patent attorney can make a huge difference in the success of your patent application, and the future success of your product. To learn more about patents and intellectual property, read our post “Issues in Intellectual Property: Patent Infringement, Protecting Your Rights, and More.”