The Business of Patent Law

Uncivility In the Legal Profession

On the heels of being helped by a Good Samaritan, I had the unpleasant experience of dealing with an attorney who is very reluctant to transfer files. The client had requested, in writing, that all original paper and electronic files be transferred immediately, since the information was necessary to support some ongoing foreign patent applications.

The attorney kept the originals and delivered paper copies with no electronic files a few days after they were due. The second written request was the same as the first: original files and an electronic version of everything. The attorney asked that the paper copies be returned so that he could “verify” they were correct, but did not make arrangements or even mention the electronic files.

I fail to understand why someone would be an obstructionist in this situation. Why make a bad situation with a client even worse by delaying and hesitating?

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Going from Mere Patent Attorney to Integral Member of Management

There are a few useful services that make sense to me, but I don’t see many law firms providing to their clients. Most patent firms operate on a case by case basis, with some big-picture consulting every so often or when a problem arises. On a rare occasion, someone from the law firm may participate in brainstorming with the inventors or strategizing with the business managers. This is generally because of the obnoxious billing rates charged by partners or senior associates in a large firm.

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How Billing By The Hour Hurts the Attorney

I am not a big fan of modern IP practice. The tremendous value that an IP practitioner can bring to a company, plus the fact that so few attorneys are qualified to sit for the Patent Bar exam, makes a patent attorney a very valuable commodity. From a patent attorney’s perspective, this means that a higher hourly billing rate is appropriate.

I have found that clients seem to fall into three categories. The sophisticated client understands IP and knows exactly what services they want. Typically, this client has in-house counsel that handles patents and other related IP matters. The in-house counsel is the voice of IP reason within the company, educating the inventors and being a constant resource for management decisions.

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