Working your relationships

Article  \  27 Jun 2012

Every professional relationship your business has needs to be nurtured and carefully managed to ensure that it works for you and meets your needs.

Your patent attorney relationship is no different!

A strong patent attorney and client relationship does not happen by accident. It's the result of the mutual and combined efforts of the patent attorney and client. A good attorney can take steps to keep the relationship on the right track, but he or she cannot do it without a client's help.

Ensure you keep your relationship on track.  Here are some tips to help you do just that.

1. Get organised

You are paying for your patent attorney's time and expertise. The more work you do, the less you'll have to pay your patent attorney to do.

Keep in mind that when you first speak to a patent attorney, he or she will probably know little about you, your business or your needs. 

If seeking patent advice, provide a model, a written description and a drawing of your invention to help your attorney to quickly understand it.

For trade mark advice, provide details of your trade mark, who created it, what goods or services you propose to use it on, where you intend to trade, and whether you have business diversification plans.

Also, your patent attorney will need to know some basic background information such as:

  • How have others tried to solve the same problem your invention addresses?
  • What makes your solution novel?
  • How did you create your invention?
  • Have you disclosed your invention by way of sale or offer to sell?
  • Do others in the same industry use similar trade marks to the one of interest to you?

Collecting this information in advance saves time and money.

2. Educate yourself

Some understanding of what intellectual property rights are available would be very helpful in any discussions you have with your patent attorney.  Also a broad understanding of how each right is created will improve the relationship by making you a better consumer.

Patent attorneys prefer educated clients and will invest time in assisting you understand what can often be a complex area of the law.  In turn you will be better able to understand and recognise the value of the services you receive and make informed decisions.

So ask lots of questions!!

There is also a lot of freely available information about intellectual property online which you can digest in your own time.

Many patent attorneys have information sheets created to explain broadly to clients what intellectual property is, what the individual rights protect and for how long.  Ask for this information.

3. Understanding your patent attorney fees

Never be shy to discuss money!

A good time to discuss fees is during an initial consultation. Your attorney will be ready to discuss fees at this first meeting, and you should be ready to do the same. Determine whether you will be charged by the hour (time-based billing) or by the task (fixed-fee billing), what hourly rates apply for the patent attorney assisting you, how often you will receive a bill and payment terms.

Once a patent attorney agrees to represent you, he or she will provide you with an account application form so that you can set up as a client. You will be sent a client charter outlining how the relationship will work and including information you need to know about the privacy of your information, storage of your files, how to make a complaint, the level of professional indemnity insurance the attorney has etc.

For each specific piece of work instructed, it is likely that you will be sent a letter of engagement outlining the scope of your instructions, the attorney responsible, time frames and expected costs.

Make sure you read and understand these documents before you sign them, so that you feel comfortable about the services you are buying. Keep a copy for your records.

4. Communicate, communicate, communicate!

Good communication is the foundation of any relationship and is especially true for a good working relationship.

At the outset, confirm how and when you want to be contacted, and then keep your contact information up-to-date.

Promptly respond to your patent attorney's requests for information. The quicker you respond, the more time you give your attorney to digest the information and use it more effectively.

Nurturing a strong working relationship with your patent attorney can go a long way in assisting you secure the rights you and your business desire.

While obtaining some intellectual property rights may not be straightforward, having a good relationship with your patent attorney is always worth the effort.

An edited version of this article was published in Her Magazine, June/July 2012.