It's an exciting thing to come up with an idea worthy of protection. Most people on this planet will never know what that sense of pride feels like. So if you have created an original product idea or concept, we think it would be wise to take the proper steps to protect it. You need a patent, and this is where a patent lawyer comes into the picture. You have the idea, also called a piece of intellectual property; your patent lawyer has the knowledge and resources to help you apply for that patent and then enforce it if infringement occurs down the line.
What Is a Patent Lawyer?
A patent lawyer specializes in obtaining and protecting patents. They represent clients in all manner of procedures pertaining to patent law and an intellectual property practice. If you are an inventor, innovator or creative type with an idea or product you want to protect from ever being stolen from you, then you would benefit greatly from the services of a patent lawyer.
As in most other areas of law, it is possible to obtain a patent and attempt to protect your intellectual property without a lawyer. However, patent law is very complex and, to the untrained mind, it can be overwhelming. Patent lawyers help keep clients safe from loophole exploitation and other damaging attacks that can result from technical mistakes and going it alone.
You may hear the terms "patent attorney" and occasionally "patent agent" in place of "patent lawyer," but don't be confused. "Attorney" and "lawyer" are used interchangeably in the United States, and both patent attorneys and patent agents have the same license to practice and represent clients before the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). However, there is a major, key distinction between a patent attorney/lawyer and a patent agent.
Patent Attorneys vs. Patent Agents
To register as a patent lawyer and be able to practice before the USPTO, an individual must already be admitted to a state or territorial bar. Then, she must pass the registration examination, which is commonly referred to as the "patent bar". This test vigorously examines a candidate's knowledge of patent law and USPTO policies and procedures. If the candidate passes the exam successfully, he or she becomes, and can rightfully be called, a patent attorney.
However, many science-based majors, such as engineers and scientists, as well as law students and law graduates not yet admitted to a bar, can work as patent agents, assisting individuals with the application process and providing certain other services. Patent agents are not officially qualified to give legal advice, though, nor can they represent clients in court.
Since the America Invents Act was implemented in March 2013, the percentage of applicants who pass this test has dropped noticeably, making it harder for aspiring patent lawyers and patent agents.
Key Aspects of a Patent Lawyer's Role
A patent lawyer must be knowledgeable about more than just complex legislation surrounding patents. He or she also needs to have an adequate understanding of technology be able to grasp and interpret clients' inventions and technical ideas.
The intellectual property of the client is what the patent lawyer is working to protect, so it is helpful for any candidate taking the patent bar to have a scientific or technical background.
A technical or scientific degree is not required, but an acumen for science and technology matters in many phases of the process.
When to Hire a Patent Lawyer
Again, maybe you have a great idea and now you need to protect it. Or perhaps you are planning ahead for the invention or concept you've been working on.
It's time to consult a patent lawyer. They are incredibly effective in protecting intellectual property rights; after all, that is basically the job description.
Below, we'll cover a few reasons why hiring a patent lawyer is an intelligent decision for any creative individual, artist, or corporate entity looking to register and/or defend a patent.
Defending a Patent
Once you've filed and successfully received a patent, defending it becomes the priority, and this protection is another challenge altogether. If you learn of infringement or suspect it, you will need to have a trustworthy patent attorney with the technical and legal expertise to successfully prosecute that infringing party and recover compensation or other satisfaction for you.
Legal representation is often very important if any such dispute arises. When patent infringement occurs, often the targeted party being infringed upon does not have the legal resources or skill to defend their intellectual property and get compensated fairly. Further, if the party being infringed upon does nothing at all, it can destroy or greatly diminish the value of that intellectual property.
Familiarity with Current, Evolving Intellectual Property Law
When it comes to applying for patents, there are updates constantly being made that protect the individual or corporation with the creation in need of a patent. It is a lot to keep up with if you are not a patent attorney. Keeping up with evolving laws and taking the necessary actions to ensure your patent is in good shape for the future are important roles for the patent lawyer you choose.
International Law & Protections
A patent should protect your property on a global platform. This can be very tricky since almost every country has different laws and regulations regarding patents.
Thus, a strong understanding of international patent law is important if you expect your patent to have an international impact and offer protection beyond the borders of the United States.
How to Choose a Patent Lawyer
Before you make any major public disclosure of your idea or invention, you should find the right patent lawyer for your situation. First, this attorney should be qualified and registered to practice before the USPTO.
In addition to a law degree and license, however, you may wish to find a qualified and registered attorney with a technical background in the sciences or other expertise relevant to your specific invention.
So don't settle for just anyone with a law degree; there are brilliant patent attorneys out there that will serve you wonderfully if you do your homework and compare their backgrounds.
Shop Around to Find the Right Fit
Don't hesitate to call an intellectual property (IP) law firm for fear of finding a bill in the mail the next day. Unless you agree to a consultation fee, no firm should bill you anything until you have signed an agreement with terms of billing spelled out.
Most firms are happy to meet with you for an hour or so, free of charge, to get to know you and for you to get to know the firm and its lawyers. This is a wonderful idea because you can talk about what you want from your attorney and what you want out of your patent.
Also, they can provide you with useful information and discuss options for protecting your idea on a more general level. Often, it's a good idea to meet with multiple firms and weigh the pros and cons of each before signing anything.
Consider an Attorney with Expertise in Your Specific Field
Again, you may want your patent lawyer to understand your idea at a technical level so that, when he or she is drafting your patent, they will have all the knowledge to act in your best interest.
When looking for an attorney or firm, we suggest looking for one that has an appropriate technical background and then working specifically with that attorney in your dealings with the firm.
Discuss the Total Cost of Obtaining Your Patent
Dealing with initial rejection from the USPTO is common when seeking a patent. This often happens once or twice before the patent is finally granted.
You will want to make sure you are aware of the legal fees and expenses you will encounter if the application requires your attorney to file more than once, make revisions, and perform other work on your behalf.
Determine if the Firm Also Does Litigation
You may want to consider a firm that does both patent applications and patent litigation. While filing patents with the USPTO and working with patent examiners to get them approved is critical, it can be equally important to have a firm capable of enforcing and defending your patent in the courts.
With so many people and so many corporations on the planet today, a unique idea or invention is a treasure. Historically, some people buried their treasure to protect it. Today, a successful patent application is the first step in protecting your treasure from others trying to profit from your intellectual property at your expense.
There are many things to look for when trying to choose a good patent lawyer. Above all, your choice should be someone you trust and with whom are able to build a strong working relationship.
Your lawyer should your best interests always in mind and be there for you through every part of the patent application and protection processes. Keep these points in mind when searching for the right patent lawyer and you'll surely be in good hands.