I sued one of the largest international toy companies in federal court years ago – I’ve witnessed firsthand what amazing prizefighters attorneys can be. They’re fantastic to watch in their element. But working with an attorney is not unlike any other business relationship. Inventors tend to place blind faith in their legal counsel; in actuality, the process of protecting your intellectual property needs to be managed and overseen closely.
Educate yourself: attorneys are only as good as the information you give them. You will save both time and money if you’re familiar with intellectual property protection – copyrights, trademarks, and patents. I highly recommend David Pressman’s “Patent Yourself in 24 Hours”. It’s a great resource.
Understand your attorney’s billing policies. Attorneys are paid to talk – keep your conversations short and concise, and make sending emails a habit. I write John and explain exactly what I’m interested in discussing, rather than pick up the phone. At the very beginning of your relationship, ask your attorneys, “How much is this going to cost?” Although they won’t be thrilled to give you an estimated budget, they will. Hold them to it. If they shoot over by 10%, that’s reasonable. But if the price becomes way out of line, ask them to readjust their fees.
Recognize that your attorney is unlikely to be as passionate about your idea as you are. You will probably be one of many clients. To insure that my attorneys were aware of all the steps necessary to achieve my goals, I prepared outlines of what my patent needed to do from a protection standpoint. I wrote out all the claims I thought were necessary and warranted, and created all of the drawings. They were rough, to be sure, but I knew I needed to involve myself as much as possible to fully understand what rights I was going to receive, and that all the rights I did want were. I then had the lawyers craft the documents into “legal-ese” and identify any holes I may have missed. But I still needed to be the expert – you do too. Know the right questions to ask, know the right prior art to examine. Don’t simply rely on your attorney. Be active and be present.
To be sure, the patent process is complicated at best, but an additional way to achieve familiarization is by examining prior art. Check out http://www.USPTO.gov. You will begin to identify patterns in the documents fairly quickly – a format DOES exist.