I define a vessel as something used for transportation in, on or through water. Pretty much every vessel patent is a hull of some variety. At the USPTO the Naval Architecture group – Art group 3617 handles all of these applications. Since there are only 11 programs in the country that offer a degree in this field, the examiners come from a small set of rather homogenous programs.
This demonstrates that it is that much more important to find a patent attorney that knows the language of naval architecture. In particular, two courses in these programs: hydrostatics and hydrodynamics come up in most applications and without an explanation of how those apply, your application can be really limited.
Vessels are further complicated by the Vessel Hull Design Protection Act of 1998 (as amended) which provides that vessel hulls can be registered as designs with the USPTO or with the Library of Congress. You can utilize both a utility patent and one of the design protections, though the design protection is more limited. Typically, you want to file a provisional patent application before you apply for design registration, because the design registration can be a prior art reference against the non-provisional application, depending on when everything was filed.
In general, hydrodynamics govern patentability in the utility sense. Why is it that water moves along the hull in the manner that it does and what structure causes this movement? Those answers usually provide some insight as to patentability.
In a typical utility patent case, an inventor will file a provisional application shortly after coming up with the vehicle or accessory. Then, a prototype is built and tested both for market viability and for possible improvements. At some point either before or after filing the provisional application, a search is conducted and a patentability opinion is obtained. If the market seems viable a non-provisional application is filed within a year.
The AIPLA median cost from someone in the rural western United States is $2,000 for a novelty search, $3,500 for a provisional application and then $8,500 for the non-provisional application, $2,000 to respond to an office action and $600 to pay the issue fee and docket maintenance fees. A median case with one office action would cost $16,600 to issue. My 99th percentile cost across all kinds of applications is $9,676. If you go with me there is an excellent chance you will pay $6,900 less than someone you pick at random.