Selecting an Attorney to Protect Your Innovation

Make sure your attorney understands your innovation.

If you have created an invention or innovation, you may consider the need to protect your intellectual property. Unprotected inventions might be copied or stolen by competitors looking to increase their market share. Finding the right intellectual property attorney to guide you through the process can critical to your success. Not only might you need an attorney to help file a patent, but you might also need counsel on other forms of intellectual property protection.

A good attorney is not just a source of legal advice, but also a wise counselor who can offer more holistic guidance as your business gets off the ground. But there are literally tens of thousands of attorneys out there. How can you find the right one?

Intellectual Property Attorneys: The Importance of Specialization

If you have created an invention, whether physical or digital, you likely need to protect your intellectual property. Intellectual property is a surprisingly broad field. Even "patent law" is a broad field. You likely need a patent lawyer who has specific experience in the type of invention you have created (e.g., technological, digital, pharmaceutical, and so forth). You should not make the mistake of hiring a lawyer whom you trust, but who works in an entirely different field—such as the lawyer who masterfully handled your friend’s personal injury case. Intellectual property law should be handled by a specialist.

You can find an intellectual property lawyer in Nolo's Lawyer Directory. The American Intellectual Property Law Association ("AIPLA") may also be able to assist you in locating attorneys in your area. You can also contact your local city or state bar association, which likely has a dedicated committee related to patent law. Often, bar associations will publicly list the contact information for the committee chairs, and those individuals might be able to direct you to an appropriate lawyer.

Other Legal Specialties to Consider

For certain tasks, you may need an attorney who specializes in a particular area other than intellectual property. If you have concerns about taxes or an IRS dispute, you will need a tax attorney; if you are overwhelmed by debt, you will need a bankruptcy attorney; if you are sorting out your business form (for example, forming a corporation), you will need a business attorney.

In addition to all these specialties, some lawyers focus on litigation. Not all intellectual property attorneys are litigators. If, for instance, you have a license dispute and want to sue someone (or someone has threatened to sue you), you will need an intellectual property attorney who specializes in litigation. Litigators usually bill on an hourly basis, though sometimes they may take a case on contingency. Under this arrangement, if you win, the attorney receives a percentage—usually one-third of any recovery.

Additional Considerations When Hiring a Patent Attorney

Knowing a great deal about patent law might be the most important factor in selecting an attorney at this juncture. But it should not be the only factor. Just like hiring any lawyer, or other professional for that matter, you should perform some due diligence. Ask colleagues and friends about their recommendations. Ask for client references.

Make sure that the lawyer(s) that you are considering are admitted in good standing to their state's bar association. You should also not underestimate the importance of personal rapport. You and your lawyer may spend a great deal of time working together, and not all personalities click. Before signing a retainer agreement with the attorney, ask to meet him or her for an initial appointment. You want to be sure that the lawyer seems friendly and professional; qualities that matter just as much as a detailed knowledge of patent law.

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