The Embedded Patent Attorney

There were a few comments on my post about lowering costs. Notably, Doug Sorcco suggested the concept of the embedded patent attorney and Matt Buchanan added some comments. Doug and Matt both describe the patent attorney who knows the insides of your business, walks the halls, and attends both business and engineering meetings. No surprise here, I like the idea.

This is one of the most important ways to lower patent costs, and as Doug suggests, one reason for firing your patent attorney if he/she does not do this for free.

The embedded patent attorney benefits both the attorney and the business in more ways than just the tangible. For the business, the patents and the decisions concerning patents are made with an interrelated confluence of legal, technical, and business judgment, not with separate and independent legal, technical, and business reasons.

Even when the engineers think something is ‘cool’, the business manager thinks the company needs a patent, and the attorney says he thinks it is a patentable idea, that does not mean it is the best decision for the company. Many times, the best patent is the utilitarian workhorse idea without the ‘cool factor’ but can be effectively used over the long term to ward off competitors or be applicable across other technologies. You simply cannot find these types of inventions when each discipline makes a decision in a vacuum and hands it off to some patent attorney who has never been to the company.

Having the patent attorney present in all areas of the company is a good way to bring in a unique and critical viewpoint, one that is generally knowledgable in the technical, legal, and hopefully business aspects of the company. However, if the patent attorney never takes the time to walk down the production line, sit in an occasional engineering design meeting, or discuss the business strategy and goals of the company, he is not doing his job and would be unable to help make these types of decisions.

But, you ask, why am I going to pay $400/hr to have my grizzly old patent attorney spend a few hours at my facility? The short answer is that you should not. As Doug stated in his comments, this is a service that should be done without charge by the attorney.

Where does the attorney benefit by spending ‘all this extra time’ with the client for no fee? First, it builds an extremely tight relationship with the client, one which may tolerate higher costs. More importantly, doing the homework on the company and learning the business side of things justifies the (outrageous) hourly rates. It is obnoxious to charge the client a huge hourly rate so that the attorney can gather the basic background info needed to give a reasonable answer to a question. That should be a cost that the attorney should bear.

Personally, I prefer to charge fixed fees for my services. In every case, I budget time to answer phone calls, attend occasional meetings, and consult when asked over the life of the case. I have not yet had clients who have monopolized my time or demanded more than is necessary. Every one has been respectful of my time in that regard. Another reason why I would never charge for this service is that I love being able to help in the long term success of the client. I don’t view them as one in a stack of cases, but as a long term business relationship where our success is mutual.