To begin with, I am about to provide a warning about Online Legal Services, which provide a direct source of competition to my Law Firm.
So, obviously, you have every right to read this with a healthy amount of skepticism. Of course I’m going to make the competition sound bad, right? Of course I’m going to try to make them sound scary, right? Come to me. Only I can Protect your Ideas and your Business!
As I said, I write this knowing that you’re likely to be skeptical, and you have every right to be. In fact, I think that’s a good thing! However, I always try to educate my Clients on the Legal Matters we’re discussing, so that they can make the right choice for themselves. The same applies here.
I have recently had MULTIPLE potential clients, as well as some Pro Bono clients, approach me after having previously used Online Legal Services. These services are relatively cheap (at least compared to large law firms), and they make it easy. While many of these sites provide a variety of services (including Wills, Business Incorporation, and more), my clients have specifically discussed the Patent and Trademark services, so that is what I am going to speak to.
Here’s how they work (based on experiences of actual users, and not my own):
1) Fill out a simple questionnaire;
2) Send a payment;
3) Someone will call you, ask a few questions (sometimes just a repeat of the questionnaire, with the call typically lasting 15 to 30 minutes at most); and
4) They file your application for you.
Easy! So what’s the problem?
The main Problem is that these types of services need to crank through A LOT of clients VERY QUICKLY in order to make any money. The rates that they charge are typically equal to about 1-2 hours of a lawyer’s time for basic services. The more expensive options equal around 3-5 hours of time for more complicated work, once you factor in the service taking their cut and hiring a lawyer for you.
Essentially, they are taking the information that you provided in a questionnaire, writing it out long form, and submitting it. That’s it.
There is no time to learn the intricacies of your invention or your business, no time to compare them to what else is out there, and no time to determine a strategy that gives the broadest possible Protection to you while also ensuring an Application that is likely to be granted.
There is no time to learn your long term goals and what forms of protection may best serve your current needs, never mind protecting your future growth for years to come, as well as preparing for future competition.
In fact, you might not even be paying for a service that will protect your invention or business at all. How so? Let’s look at a very REAL example that was brought to me last week.
A potential Client approached me last week. He had been looking for manufacturers for his invention, and needed some help. He was very afraid that some companies he had already spoken to were less than reputable and might attempt to manufacture his product on their own.
I asked him whether he had any Patent Protection in place. He told me that he had used an Online Legal Service (who will remain nameless here, but they are a leading one) to file a Utility Patent Application. A Utility Patent, to put it simply, protects the structure of something, or the way it is made or used. This is what most people think of when they think of a Patent.
My potential Client had gone online, decided for himself to file a Utility Patent Application, answered some questions, paid his fee, and then received a phone call. The representative of the Law Firm on the other end of the line spent less than 15 minutes talking to him, confirmed the answers to the questions, then wrote up what he was told and filed the Application.
So what’s the problem here?
The problem is that, within 5 minutes of talking to this potential Client, and seeing his homemade prototype for his Invention, it was clear that there was virtually NO CHANCE that he would be granted a Utility Patent on it.
HOWEVER, it was also clear that his invention could very likely be granted a Design Patent. Unlike a Utility Patent, a Design Patent Protects the way something LOOKS. There was nothing new or unique about the components of his invention, or how they were arranged or functioned, but the overall LOOK was seemed unique and was likely PATENTABLE.
The potential Client asked me if I could fix this for him, and get him a Patent that actually had a decent shot of being worth the money he spent on it. Unfortunately, it was too late. The Application had been filed long enough ago, with subsequent disclosures, that the invention, in its current embodiment, was no longer eligible for a Design Patent.
His money was spent, he wasn’t going to have anything to show for it, and it was too late to Protect his Invention.
It can often be very tempting to go with an Online Legal Service. They can be significantly cheaper than using a large Law Firm (though they are often close to the same price as using a smaller one). I am by no means saying that these services are bad. For many, they are a much-needed resource. However, you have to remember that they make money by turning Clients over quickly. The less time they spend on any given Client, the more Profit they make.
Whoever you use to Protect your Ideas and your Business, make sure they take the time to get to know YOUR Ideas and YOUR Business, and provide the RIGHT services.
You get what you pay for.