When you’ve come up with an invention and are looking for someone to help you obtain a patent, do your comparison shopping and choose carefully. Whether you choose a patent attorney, a patent agent, or an invention promotion service, you must feel comfortable with the person with whom you’ll be working. Writing a patent can be an intense process, and this characteristic is vital.
It is in your best interest to hire a patent attorney you like. You should be confident in the person’s abilities and experience. You should feel free to talk with them about your questions and concerns. They should treat you with respect and priority, giving you the time and attention you need to be informed. They will explain the process of getting a patent, and will give you an engagement letter describing that process and the associated fees.
An attorney will also be bound by ethical rules regarding his representation of you. He’s required to keep your conversations, questions, and findings confidential. A statutory privilege prevents him from disclosing information about the representation. He also is required to communicate with you to keep you informed about your matter.
A patent attorney should have other reasons to treat you well. The community in which he works may be small, and his reputation can determine his success. Even in a city as big as Phoenix, the community of patent attorneys is close, and a reputation for treating clients poorly, not responding to questions, or being difficult to work with could have consequences. Every client is a resource for an attorney in the form of referrals – one of a lawyer’s most powerful ways of developing his practice. The lawyer will want to treat you well and will make sure you are happy.
When you are considering whether to hire a patent attorney, shop around and make sure you are comfortable with the person. This quality in the lawyer-client relationship is the foundation on which the rest of the representation is built. If you feel better with another attorney, hire them – the first attorney should not be upset. A client sent to a colleague is still a potential referral source and supports goodwill among attorneys. In the long run, the client will be happier, and so will the attorneys.
INVENTION PROMOTION SERVICES
If you are considering an invention promotion service (“IPS”) to help you with your invention, consider all of the above. The qualities you look for in an attorney should all be present in the person with whom you communicate at the IPS. However, be aware that there is no duty of confidentiality incumbent on IPS companies, so be sure you have some sort of non-disclosure agreement with them to protect the patentability of your invention. No laws or rules require an IPS to keep your invention a secret, nor is there anything that requires them to communicate with you or keep you apprised of their progress.
Be aware of the history of the specific IPS. Congress passed a law in 1999 requiring IPSs to provide certain information to prospective customers. For instance, the IPS should tell you how many customers it has worked with and how many have earned a profit. There are some sketchy IPS companies out there – avoid them by being informed. The Patent Office has a website for information about invention promotion scams, and the FTC has published alerts warning inventors of to-good-to-be-true-type offers. Some complaints against specific companies can be found on the USPTO website. The allegations there are sad and generally involve several thousands of lost dollars.
Above all, make an informed choice, and be sure you want to work with the person you hire.