Inventor-patent attorney relationship status: It's CollaborativePatent Speak
July 25, 2019
Patent protection can be a complicated area of intellectual property (IP). But inventor and patent attorney relationships don't have to be complicated.
I recently stumbled across an opinion piece that posed the question of what makes an “inventor-friendly” patent attorney. Listed were several hallmark signs to help inventors spot a good patent attorney in the wild. Commercially minded, speaks English over legalese, educates inventors – all valid points. But defining a “good” patent attorney by a small number of subjective factors, is about as (un)helpful as Ross' pro and con list about Rachel in Friends. The list over simplified and overlooked an important factor:
The inventor-attorney relationship is a collaborative one at its core and best.
The success of an invention doesn’t rest squarely on the shoulders of your patent or patent attorney alone. A patent attorney provides guidance and assistance in securing any appropriate IP protection for your invention. But your invention and intellectual property (IP) are only as valuable as the business strategy behind it.
For any budding inventors and entrepreneurs playing at home, ask not what your patent attorney can do for you. Also ask what you can do for your patent attorney, to help start your IP venture on the right collaborative foot. Here’s some things to consider when engaging and working together with a patent attorney.
Ideas are great, inventions are better
That bright idea that you came up with…at 3am…after a drink or two few, sleep on it. Revisit the idea in the sober daylight before hitting up a patent attorney. Ideas are a good, well – idea. But an actual invention is better. You can’t patent and protect an idea alone. Details around how your idea might materialise into a workable form and potential invention is when you start venturing into possible patent territory. If your idea is still at an early stage, be prepared to get quizzical with a patent attorney. We will probably raise more questions than answers for you. But hopefully, it will get you thinking and developing your idea into something more tangible.
You might find some inventive inspiration in this blog post.
A short history of nearly everything
Mirror mirror on the inventive wall, am I creating a solution no-one asked for, to a problem that doesn’t exist at all? Even if there's not a real need for your invention, think about who might want your invention. Doing some homework and market research, may help with the development of your invention. But will also be handy info to share with your patent attorney, for example:
- Providing a snapshot of any current products and solutions;
- Identifying any advantages or disadvantages with the existing products and solutions;
- Identifying a potential target market for your invention; and
- Identifying any competitors in the space.
Also, take care in where you seek validation for your idea or invention. Asking your mum if she thinks your invention's a good idea - probably not great market research. Unless she's your target demographic. But even then, mum will probably tell you what you want to hear.
It’s not personal, it’s patently business
Remember how invested everyone was in the iron throne? 8 seasons of plotting, epic battles and constant demands to bend the knee. In the end, the iron throne wasn’t a seat anyone really cared about. The point is, if your sole purpose for obtaining a patent is to stop others from getting their mitts your invention - how valuable is your patent throne really?
Patents aren’t an automatic cash cow or defence. Their value is dependent on a solid business plan. Operative word being business. Plot out your business case for investing in patent protection:
- Are you going to manufacture and sell the invention yourself?
- Are you looking to sell or license your invention to another company?
- Where in the world are your target markets and commercial interests?
- Are you prepared to enforce your patent rights against any potential copycats?
The above questions are all commercial things for you to consider as an inventor and entrepreneur. Your patent attorney won’t make these commercial decisions for you. Any IP advice and strategies your patent attorney provides, will be guided by your commercial wants and needs.
Patents often involve a lot of secret squirrel business. Inventors are strongly encouraged to keep their inventive cards close to their chest. But when you chat with a patent attorney, you can feel comfortable spilling the beans with us. Rest assured patent attorneys aren't out to steal your invention. The professional code of conduct, requires patent attorneys to act in the best interests of a client. So stealing inventions is a professional faux pas. It’s also our standard practice to conduct routine conflict checks, to ensure that we’re in a position to assist you with your patent matter. So pony up those inventive details.
Helpful tidbits to share with your patent attorney include:
- The problem your invention helps solve
- How your invention goes about solving the problem
- The unique features of your invention
- Any visual aids - photos, technical drawings
- Any commercial plans for the invention
Clear, open, constant and timely communication makes the inventor-attorney experience and partnership an effective and meaningful one.
A king’s ransom
Inventors beware of a patent attorney who charges for an initial consult. It's a red flag of a not-so-inventor-friendly attorney. This is royal fallacy and an unreasonable expectation. What might appear to be a “simple” or “quick” patent question in the first instance is often anything but. Patent costs can vary depending on the complexity of the matter, the type of patent application appropriate for your invention and the countries where you’re considering protection. Every patent application is a bespoke piece of work, carefully crafted for your invention by an experienced and qualified attorney. So when it comes to patent protection for your business, think less off-the-rack and more intellectual haute couture. Be prepared to invest some coin in this process.
Where possible, attorneys will always be upfront about estimated costs* throughout the process. But while we’re working away on the IP protection front, you need to be marching forward on the business front. Your return on investment depends on how you commercialise the invention. That invention and patent ain't going to sell itself so get pitching.
*If the cost estimates don't align with your cost expectations, have a chat with your patent attorney. These conversations only get awkward when it involves what I call "bully bartering". Where someone takes it upon themselves to calculate what they consider an experienced attorney is worth. Here's some courteous calculus: subtract the use of rude variables like "inflated", "humongous mark up" and "a simple issue". Add some good manners and consideration for the significance of the work involved. The result is you will benefit from the advice and expertise of an attorney.
Find your technical someone
Not all patent attorneys are created equal. Every patent attorney will have technical qualifications and expertise in relation to a specific area such as engineering, biology or chemistry. Within these broad areas, you'll find attorneys with specific skills and experience in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, biotechnology, medicinal chemistry, agricultural science etc. Long story short, you'll find different patent folks for different inventive strokes. Depending on the nature of your invention, you should engage the advice and services of a patent attorney with the appropriate skill set.
Patent attorneys work to guide inventors along the IP pathway. How we do this, depends on your business plans and goals. Because it becomes less a path and more a maze if we don't know where you want to take your IP.
Got a question around patent protection? Please say hello using our Patent Enquiry form.