Why the IP Law Firm Business Model is Broken And What I Am Doing About It

As a former IP law firm shareholder and senior corporate lawyer, I know all too well the expense required to start and maintain an IP law practice.  Not only are IP lawyers of all levels of experience paid handsomely, but so are the highly skilled paralegals, docket clerks and administrative professionals traditionally required create the infrastructure needed to handle the myriad of details involved in an IP law practice.  Of course, this expensive infrastructure must be sustaining, so while a lawyer serves today’s clients, her eye must also be on finding the next client because payroll and rent obligations don’t take a holiday when clients do. This “feed the beast” nature of the IP law practice model was a primary reason that I decided several years ago that I would not again work in the traditional practice of law.  How could I?  The standard legal service framework required me to build and maintain a business model where the product offered is obtaining patents for clients.  However, over the years I discovered that often the client does not need the very product that sustains the IP law firm business model.  What I perceived as an inherent conflict between my business interests Continue Reading →

Google Changes the Game Again–This Time for Patent Owners and Those Who Serve Them

Patrick Anderson of the great Gametime IP blog reported the details of Google’s new prior art searching tool*.   This is such important news, I thought it important to repeat it in a separate post.  Patrick provides detailed instructions for how to use the Google patent searching tool, and I will not repeat that information here.  This post provides commentary on why I think this is a very good development for the patent world.   Google’s original announcement on its blog is here.  It does not appear coincidental that Google is upgrading its patent searching capabilities:  in this press release from June 2010 we are informed of the partnership between Google and the USPTO to increase the amount of US patent information available to the public. When used correctly, Google’s tool can help “democratize” the patent analysis process by putting more power in the hands of those who are not part of the closed “guild” of patent professionals.  For example, before spending money on a search (and the opinion that most patent professionals will insist on writing to put context to the search), an inventor can herself get a feel for not just the patentability of her invention, but also Continue Reading →

Want to Know More about IP Strategy? A Selection of Posts for In-House and Outside Counsel

This week, I am speaking at the Midwest IP Institute.  I will be participating in a “fire side chat” with my good friend, Edna Vassilovski of Stoel, Rives LLP. Our session is entitled “How Patent Prosecutors and In-House Counsel Can Provide Work Product Better Aligned with Client’s Business Needs.”  Specific topics we will discuss include: How clients’ views of IP and intangible assets are changing and ways both inside and outside counsel can stay relevant to clients today; What you can do to help clients obtain meaningful patents at reduced cost; How to really understand clients’ business goals and how to help make those happen; and How to help clients monetize their patents I am really looking forward to sharing my passion for IP business strategy with in-house lawyers and outside counsel, especially since I will be doing this with someone like Edna who I think has a great grasp on client service from a business perspective.  In preparation for this talk, and for the benefit of those attending the the session who would like to learn more about my perspective, I thought it made sense to revive some previous blog posts from the past couple of years where I Continue Reading →

IP Strategist on the Radio: 2 Recent Interviews

As my consulting practice becomes ever more busy, blogging must be relegated to times when client work is not pressing–that ever-elusive free time.  But now that Summer is here, free time has been hard to come by–it’s hard to write when at the pool with the kids or driving to Grandma’s house–but I haven’t been totally giving up my outreach.  I recently participated in 2 radio interviews where I discussed the value of IP Strategy for entrepreneurs and inventors. Here I was on the 40 Year Old Business Virgin Radio Show with Dave Savage, Leader and President of The Inventors Association of Georgia and a person named Mohamed who has a really cool entrepreneurial story (sorry I didn’t get his last name).  The hosts of the show, Kile Lewis and Ted Jenkin, are irreverent business advisors, and you should enjoy the show.  (I appear in the first half).   They also made a short follow-up You Tube video (I had no idea I would appear on video and dressed totally inappropriately, but–oh well). I also appeared with Dave Savage on the Community Perspectives Radio Show (link here:  IAG Interview–opens to YouSendIt.com then your media player), along with Narayanan Subramanian.  In Continue Reading →

Much Ado About Patent Marking: Why It is So Hard for Corporations to Get It Right and Why False Marking Lawsuits Might be a Good Thing Overall

It is fairly rare for patents to make hit the radar screen of mainstream news outlets but, recently, there has been much space allotted to the issue of patent mis-marking and lawsuits being brought by third parties for “violation” of the law requiring that products cannot be marked with an incorrect patent number.  Indeed, the usually substance-free local paper in my mother’s Southwest Florida community reported about the flood of patent mis-marking lawsuits.  And, it is no wonder that the undoubtedly arcane issue of patent marking has reached the status of “news” in a small-town paper given the huge number of cases currently pending in the federal courts.  It seems as if patent marking litigation may be the new business model for trial lawyers who are looking for a new “gravy train” to extract substantial legal fees from corporations whose activities violate the letter (but not necessarily the spirit) of the law. First, an explanation:  U.S. patent law expressly dictates that products should be marked with the number of patent(s) with claims that cover that same product.  If one does not mark the product, the patentee cannot obtain damages for infringement that occurs either prior to its giving “actual notice” Continue Reading →

Guest Poster David Boundy: A Detailed Examination of What the Proposed First to File Legislation Means to Business

(Editorial Note:  Last week, I posted my thoughts on the proposed changes to the US patent laws from a first to invent to a first to file system.  In response to my post, I received an exceedingly detailed and substantive comment from David Boundy, Vice President, Ass’t Gen’l Counsel, Intellectual Property at Cantor, Fitzgerald.  (David wanted me to say that this post his personal view, and does not reflect the views of Cantor, Fitzgerald.)  David’s viewpoint on what the proposed legislation will mean to business deserves a forum, and he has graciously allowed me to post his comment in total on the IP Asset Maximizer Blog.  Anyone who works with business to generate patent assets should be concerned about the proposed changes.) About guest poster David Boundy:   David Boundy has spent over a decade on Wall Street, first in several of New York’s most prominent law firms, now as in-house counsel at one of Wall Street’s largest investment banks.   In several years of his career, David as one single lawyer moved more money around based on patents than the entire federal judiciary combined.   David believes that litigation costs and damages should be irrelevant to the current patent reform debate; what matters Continue Reading →

For Inventor of 21 Patents, Patent Troll Litigation Not Very Lucrative

  Recently, I wrote a post on why I think that patent litigation is not a viable business model for inventors.  Given a realistic deconstruction of the costs and possible damage awards, I concluded that, in most situations, it is not realistic for an inventor to presume that she will “hit the jackpot” by suing infringers and extracting settlement or damage awards.  I obtained some pushback from this post, mostly from patent litigation lawyers, who contend that I am wrong in my view that patent litigation does not pay for inventors.  Of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion, and I respect the views of others, however, no one who objects to my (somewhat) negative view of patent litigation as a business model, has provided me with numbers to discount my economic analysis of patent litigation.  This recent post from The Prior Art blog entitled “Revealed! How Much Money a “Patent Troll” Makes” provides some insight into usually confidential inventor returns when dealing with a patent licensing program.  The underlying patents related to GPS technology and were asserted against several prominent technology companies.  The post gives a rare look into the numbers involved obtained in sending “patent licensing letters” to technology companies.  In Continue Reading →

A Patent Reality Check: Litigation Not a Viable Revenue Source for Most Inventors

The ability of an intrepid inventor to strike it rich from a great idea seems to be embedded in the DNA of many Americans.  Perhaps this view emanates from the presence of patents in the US Constitution, which could create a feeling that US citizens have an “inalienable right” to use patent protection to their advantage.  Alternatively, people may perceive the occasional media reports of successful inventors and substantial patent litigation awards as a signal that patents can serve as a path to wealth for those with great ideas (certainly, this is the Hollywood view).  In truth, however, getting rich merely from a patent is a rare occurrence–maybe not as low a probability as winning the lottery, but the odds are incredibly long that any person can make money from a patented idea alone.  Think about it: if all it took was a patent to make someone wealthy, there would be a heck of a lot more rich people in this country given the huge numbers of patents that are granted by the US Patent Office every year. There are many reasons why the idea getting rich from patenting an idea is overstated, several of which I have discussed before on this Continue Reading →

How a Patent Strategy Focused Only on Obtaining the Lowest Cost Patents May Reveal a Company’s Future Inability to Remain Viable

Commentators like me frequently rail against what we view as the often unnecessarily high cost of obtaining patent protection. In truth, many patents are overpriced and provide questionable business value to their clients. Over-priced patents do not form the basis of this article, however. Instead, this is about the opposite phenomenon, i.e., under-priced patents. Specifically, in this article, I describe a company’s desire to obtain low cost patents and what such a patent strategy may reveal about its long term viability. I was recently contacted by a large printer manufacturer (“PrinterCo” for the purposes of this discussion) to see whether I was interested in preparing patent applications for the price of $1300 each. This price seemed somewhat ridiculous to me because even the most “bargain basement” patent preparation prices that pop up on my Google sidebar advertising do not seem to dip beneath a threshold level of $2800. And, as a high level chemical patent prosecution attorney, I routinely drafted patent applications that cost $15K or more in 2005. PrinterCo’s desire to obtain patent applications for $1300 thus both surprised and intrigued me, and I wanted to learn more about what type of patent application its management sought for this Continue Reading →

Confessions of a Reluctant Convert to Electronic Patent File Management Systems & Why I Am Now a True Believer

For many years, vendors of office automation systems expended considerable effort trying to convince corporate and law firm patent attorneys to adopt paperless file management systems by touting the time and money savings associated with electronic files over the traditional patent file system. However, relatively few patent attorneys have done so, instead, remaining loyal to the traditional three-sided manila patent file folder. Until recently I was one of those patent attorneys. Now that I have discovered the vast efficiencies and improvements possible with these electronic systems, the question is why I remained true to this clearly outdated system of maintaining client patent prosecution records. Given the remarkable efficiency and knowledge management improvements possible with electronic patent file management systems, there can be no viable excuse for either corporate or law firm patent attorneys not to adopt such systems.In retrospect, I think I found that the heft and history represented by the partially filled patent file folder provided a feeling of ongoing accomplishment, even while I was contesting yet another trivial rejection from a patent examiner. The need for a tangible sign of my efforts prevailed over the backaches that I incurred from carrying multiple patent files to work on outside Continue Reading →