We should ditch Avvo.

*For those of you who are not familiar with Avvo, it’s a website where lawyers give out free answers and, in return, get ranked higher in its proprietary lawyer directory.

Isn’t a lawyer just like a mechanic?

Observation: You walk into their places, and you aren’t quite sure what’s going on. And you pretty much pay what’s on the bill. Also, unfortunately you can’t quite live without them.

Why, then, there’s no Avvo for mechanics? Wait a minute, there’s a whole bunch!  Youtube is full of DIY videos on how-to-fix this and that, and there are numerous websites like ask-your-mechanic.com (not a real website).

They are not the same.

Car-fix videos and websites may be in part trying to promote business, but if you think about it, a very small number of the viewers will be located in the author’s geographical area. Further, the videos more often than not wholeheartedly say “don’t waste your money, you can do it yourself.”

Many lawyers reluctantly participate in Avvo just to gain publicity.

Here’s why we should ditch Avvo.

Mechanics sell their labor, meaning what they charge for is not the solution but the work performed to implement the solution.

Simply put, DIY videos may provide a solution, but they never fix your problem. If you do it yourself, you can probably save a trip to a local mechanic. But it’s not really free because you’ll be spending your own time and resources to get the job done.

Lawyers are different.

What lawyers sell is often the solution and nothing more. To elaborate, let’s say an attorney researched an issue and found that the law and facts strongly favor the client. Now, what the attorney needs to do is filing a complaint with the court.

Scenario 1: The attorney goes to the client and say “I’ve come up with a great plan to solve the problem, so you should pay $900 for it,” and add that “If you want, I will draft a complaint according to the plan for $100.”

Scenario 2: The attorney says to the client “To solve your problem, you need to file a complaint with the court; it will cost you $1,000 in total.”

These two scenarios are essentially the same as to the effect. However, the latter sounds much more reasonable and convincing to the client.

Scenario 2 works perfectly unless there’s an alternative that involves no lawsuit.

Let’s say there is a no-lawsuit plan that will cost the client $100 less because there’s no need to file a complaint but does the exactly same job. Now, would the client be happy with the $900 plan because it’s cheaper than the the original $1000 plan requiring a lawsuit? Or be appalled at the $900 fee for the all talk and no action plan? In many cases, it’s the latter.

The attorney will be inclined to keep the client happy and earn extra money  by promising justice in the name of a lawsuit. It sounds rather reasonable, but the attorney just tossed out a cheaper but equally effective option. I think lawyers shouldn’t rationalize something like this by saying that’s how it works.

Telling clients what they want to hear is never good in law practice.

I think what Avvo is doing is effectively eliminating the first $900.

Let’s say an Avvo user acquired a great advice that includes filing a complaint. The advice was given free, but can the client walk into another attorney’s office and pay $100 for filing a lawsuit? Probably not.

The lawyer who was later retained to file a lawsuit might charge less than $1,000 for it, but it all depends on how much the advice can reduce the time and cost to draft the complaint. In all fairness, no plan is like an instruction you can mindlessly follow; the fee could be less than $1,000 but never $100.

Let’s say you stick to the first attorney who masterminded the plan. Here, the lawyer just performed a $900 worth work for free, and … wait a minute. $900 out of $1,000? Is this a rate of discount a seller can afford?

The pitfall of Avvo.

A service provider can’t give out free answers when those answers are actually the essence of their service. Avvo might argue that it’s making legal service more accessible, but I say it’s going into the wrong direction.

A smart way to work with attorneys.

It starts with educating clients. When clients understand what’s going on, billing is just a formality facilitating the exchange of resources. Also, when clients are in control of what’s on the bill, they won’t complain much. Easier said than done, right?

I’m developing a platform where anyone can access a crash course on how to deal with a legal issue and work with attorneys as if they are experienced managers of their attorneys. You can check out IPfever.com where I’m working on trademark and patent related services.

For a starter, I’m writing step-by-step instructions for trademark and patent prosecution and on the side listed each step as a stand-alone product. One can follow the steps and meanwhile get help for certain steps that turn out to be troubling.

If you’re interested in IPfever, please keep reading.

IPfever is not another marketplace for legal services. For one, there’s no transaction fees for attorneys or clients. Also, any verified professional can sell their services, and there is no subscription required to access web contents or purchase legal services online.

In the future, IPfever may also include paid services like online tools and resources for law practitioners and office administrators, from which revenue can be generated. However, those services won’t unfairly compete against third-party equivalents. Otherwise, it would follow the footsteps of Avvo, leading legal industry into destructive competition.

How to get a patent without costing a fortune?

How can IPfever reduce the cost of patent? We set up simple rules: (1) you do your own homework; (2) attorneys work online; and (3) we make sure the attorneys fees are proportional to what you get.

First, you do your own homework.

If you just ignore an issue because it’s too much to deal with yourself, nothing ever changes. Most small businesses don’t have a legal counsel of their own, meaning you probably need to spend extra money to work on IP issues. This is a mishap that can be avoided by educating yourself. In fact, basics of patent law can be understood within a reasonable time as long as you know where to look.

Second, attorneys work online.

This is an overly simple statement of what actually needs to be done. We’re talking about reducing unnecessary cost on lawyer’s part. Why do you need a fancy office space in downtown when the government agency you’re dealing with is not even in town?

When a patent research is virtually all about online databases, you don’t want to pay law firm’s researchers, administrative clerks and paralegals for an initial review of your company’s patent portfolio. It is an instant impression of your attorney that you want the most when you ask a lawyer if your business needs a patent. Unfortunately, a lawyer’s typical hourly charge include every help listed above.

Lastly, IPfever makes sure you get what you paid for.

It is unfortunate that the most businesses and individuals can’t afford a lawyer. What about a free initial consultation? We all know free stuff can be poisonous. When an attorney greets a free client, what would be first in his or her mind? He or she wants your business! A need for legal service will be emphasized, and a quick and easy solution is disfavored over conservative and costly measures.

IPfever wants to solve this problem with fairness in mind. If you hard press lawyers to give out more free stuff, it might good in the beginning but won’t last long. Nonetheless, it’s plausible that you can set up a fair ground where you pay for actual value of lawyer’s service. This is awesome not only for clients but also for lawyers who has a good legal mind but lacks marketing skills.

A fair ground starts with a better understanding.

If you are retaining an attorney because you don’t know a thing about the law, then you’re like asking a mechanic to take care of your car with a promise to pay whatever is done.

Read more posts written by professionals.

Go back to see other topics in the Patent Basics.

How Does Patent Work for Small to Mid-size Business?

Patent is an intellectual property right, which is not aimed to boost the economy but intended to advance science and technology. So, many business-minded people will struggle with the basic concept of patent and how it should be used for their business.

On the other hand, patent is recognized as the most reliable and strong intellectual property right in business. You probably heard about its importance even if you really don’t know much.

The hurdle for small businesses in developing a strong patent portfolio is the expense. Does it have to be prohibitively expensive? Well, it doesn’t have to be. The more you know about the patent, the more likely you will find a solution for your business yourself.

Value of a patent: the cost-benefit analysis

Will your patent justify your time and money?

This is where you can benefit from a consultation to a patent attorney who understands your technology and has your best interest in mind.

The truth is virtually anything can be patented … if you don’t mind what is claimed in the patent.

In other words, you sufficiently narrow the scope of your claims to meet the requirements of the patent issuance, and the grant of patent is granted. Unfortunately, this is what you likely get from a cheap flat-fee patent prosecution services.

The quality of patent matters.

When the scope of patent claims is too narrow, you won’t get much from the patent. Let’s say you “discovered” a new chemical. When this chemical is added to a fuel, the efficiency of any internal combustion engine can be increased by more than 50 percent. Now, you’ve got to patent it.

You can patent a fuel additive containing the chemical.

Well, that is too narrow because it would not prevent others from selling fuels (not a fuel additive) containing the chemical. It seems you simply handed over the technology to the energy companies as no one would buy your patented fuel additive.

Then, should you claim the chemical itself?

Not really. When the chemical is not artificial, which is the case here because we assumed that it was “discovered” (not synthesized), it is not a patentable subject.

Let’s talk about the cost.

The government fees can start from a couple hundreds (as you might get discount for being a small business) to thousands of dollars. In fact, it depends on various factors like the number of claims and the length of the application.

Now the patent practitioner’s fees

I don’t recommend a flat fee arrangement unless you know what you’re doing. In other words, you should have sufficient knowledge to meaningfully get involved in the prosecution. Hourly charges vary widely (i.e. from hundreds to more than a thousand), and also the time. Therefore, you should find one you can trust and talk about the cost in advance.

What good comes with the patent application?

In the past, the customers were intrigued by the mere fact that it’s “patent pending,” but I don’t think that still works.

  1. You will thwart competitors from copying your invention although they can be quick to design around your invention (like selling fuels instead of additives).
  2. You will also prevent others from patenting the same technology.
  3. As you do a preliminary work (like clearance search), you will better understand the technology and the market.
  4. Don’t forget the value of intellectual property as an asset. When you’re selling your business, a mere know-how isn’t exactly same as the patent, which is a property right.
  5. If others are interested in licensing your tech, you can also expect a royalty.

Why patenting an invention so expensive?

It doesn't have to be so expensive.

It's just that the law firms, boutiques, or their likes practicing patent law are focused on serving bigger mostly corporate clients rather than individual inventors.

When it comes to an invention which is more about an idea and less about technology, you don't need PhDs spending hours reviewing the art let alone attorneys.

In addition, firms charge more money per hour for small clients than those bigger corporate accounts that generate vast volumes. You can't really blame them as that's how business works, but it's unfortunate that there are few options for individuals and small businesses.

There are alternative, smarter ways to work with attorneys thanks to the internet.

It won't be easy to find them because the internet search usually shows heavily advertised service first, which can be cheap but not necessarily a better deal. At all times, make sure that you're working with a patent attorney/agent who's registered with the USPTO.

Go back to see other topics in the Patent Basics

Why you need a patent?

Getting a patent is not like having a trademark registered.

If you started using a name, logo, image, or even a sequence of musical notes as a symbol that stands for your product or service, you already have a trademark. Trademark registration is a way to give an affirmative notice to the public that you are using the mark. The registration offers some perks, which are very helpful for your business, but the intellectual property right is not created by it.

On the other hand, a patent right is created when the government issue you a patent because your creative work doesn’t itself create a property right. If you invented something, you have a choice. You can disclose the ins and outs of the invention in exchange for an intellectual property right or just keep it under your sleeve.

You should wisely decide whether you apply for a patent or not.

A patent application usually discloses something you want to hide from the public as the law requires that (usually after 18 months from the application date) your application be published. In other words, everyone in the world will be able to access the disclosed information in the patent application.

If you have a technology that is immune to reverse-engineering and you are confident that you can keep the secret, getting a patent is probably more of a public service than a business move. Of course, there are instances that you want to open your technology to make it an industry standard. In this case, you patent the technology so people can learn about it, and you promise that you won’t withhold this patented technology unfairly (like demanding unreasonable license fees to discriminate your competitors).

On the other hand, if your technology is not immune to reverse-engineering or you know others will soon catch up your progress, you likely need a patent protection. It will deter copycats and protect your business from an instance where someone else is issued a patent for the same technology and sues you. This situation can be also prevented by disclosing your work to the public in advance because the means for disclosure doesn’t have to be a patent application. Though, in this case you’re simply giving up your rights to the invention.


Different types of patents

Actually there are more than one type of patent.

There's utility patent, which is basically what you think patent is. And there's design patent, which is somewhat unpopular but got the attention when Apple sued Samsung for infringing its design patent.

These two types likely cover all your needs. If you want to protect the cosmetic features of your product, consider design patent. For all other cases, you'll be thinking a utility patent.

To add, if your design feature has a utility in it (i.e. when design serves a special function), then you will probably have to go with a utility patent.

Are you an attorney interested in working with IPfever?

IPfever is not a legal service provider, but it’s in a business of helping small and midsize businesses to tackle their legal issues. Some of the help must come from licensed professionals like you. It currently provides access to federal trademark and patent related legal services, but an expansion to other areas of law is desirable.

First of all, you must be licensed in a state and have an adequate qualification. For example, you must be admitted to the patent bar to provide patent law services at IPfever.

And know that at IPfever, there’s no referral fees or service fees, except the payment processing fees to the financial institution. So, when clients pay, you will get the money. It’s that simple. Then, how will IPfever generate money to maintain its website and so on? It’s a bit too early to announce details, but we will eventually offer paid services to lawyers.

You might be concerned about the details; not everyone likes freemium services. At this time, we can promise only one thing: we won’t do anything to harm the integrity of the legal service.

Please contact admin@ipfever.com for further inquiries and applications.

Availability Retainer

Availability retainer is not an advance payment.

Typically, attorneys ask for a retainer, so they won’t end up with nothing in their pocket. It goes like this. You hire an attorney to represent in a civil action. You pay $1,000 as a part of the retainer agreement between you and your attorney. The attorney will do works for your case such as attending a court hearing. He might charge you $250 for the hearing, and you will have a balance of $750.

Availability retainer is different. When you pay $200 to your attorney as an availability retainer, your attorney is promising that a sufficient time for your case will be available in the future. It’s like an earnest money in a real property transaction, but the difference is that the money doesn’t become a part of your payment at the end.

This retainer is based on the idea that “time is money”. Even if a lawyer does not render a legal service, a client should pay for the time. The reason IPfever adopted this idea is to fairly treat honest lawyers. When you walk in to a law office and spend time there, the law office (which is for profit after all) becomes very reluctant to let you go whether or not you really need a legal service. When you pay for their time, things get much easier.

At IPfever, the amount of retainers is carefully computed based on the estimated time and effort of law practitioners. It is not based on popularity of the service or just a whim of the lawyer. It’s tightly regulated by IPfever, and that’s what IPfever is for.

What can be patented?

You found nothing like yours in your Google Patents search, and you might feel ready to patent your new idea. It's not that simple.

First, your invention should be new in a sense that people don't know it yet.

Even if nobody really patented an idea, the idea might be known to many as a common sense or to a small number of people known as experts or scholars. It doesn't matter how many people know it.

When you go into detailed analysis, it gets more complicated. Let's say your company is the first to sell a mouse pad made of bamboo and you want to patent it.

  1. The bamboo is obviously not a new material; it's not even a man-made material. Clearly, it's not something you can consider an invention.
  2. Similarly, a mouse pad is not a new thing. It's been made of many different materials and widely used in personal computing.
  3. Now, a mouse pad made of bamboo? Let's further assume nobody on the planet Earth ever made or used a mouse pad made of bamboo. Is it new then?

Unfortunately, it's not. The law will not only look at the things that already exist but also guess what can be done with existing technology and skills. I mean bamboo is a sturdy and hard material that can be easily shaped into a small plate. The law will likely say that your new idea of making a mouse pad with a bamboo was obvious. Basically it's saying that "we don't need an inventor to do that."

Second, you have to fit your idea into certain categories that can be patented.

The law provides a short list: process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter. If you think about it, it's pretty broad. In the above example, we discussed a bamboo mouse pad as a manufacture, which we concluded not patentable.

However, you may have a ground-breaking manufacturing method to process a raw bamboo tree into a large plate that can be easily cut into any shape of mouse pads. Well, that might be a patentable "process".

We can go further. If you designed and made a machine for the processing of raw bamboo trees, you may patent the machine as long as it satisfies other requirements. As you can guess, inventors often patent a manufacture, the process of making it, and the machine that performs the process at the same time.

Lastly, your idea has to have a purpose.

This is usually not a concern because the law doesn't ask for a good one. If you can find a single use for your invention, that'll be fine. The use doesn't have to be new or better than others. In fact, even if your method of processing bamboo turned out to be too expensive to make economic sense, it still has a utility in the eye of the law.