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Should My Business Hire an Intellectual Property Lawyer?

An intellectual property attorney can be a great asset for your business

If you are a business owner and your company owns intellectual property, there are many potential benefits to hiring an intellectual property lawyer. For example: 

  • A lawyer can help ensure your intellectual property rights are protected from infringement ahead of time 
  • If intellectual property right infringement does occur, a lawyer can act on your behalf to resolve the issue 
  • A lawyer can handle legal issues if they come up, letting you run your business without having to deal with the ins and outs of lawsuits 

“Working with lawyers helps avoid issues that might come up down the line,” says New York intellectual property attorney William Samuels. “With all respect for folks who are bootstrapping, $1,000 today [to hire a lawyer] may save you $10,000 tomorrow.”  

“For what it’s worth, intellectual property lawyers make money on fixing problems [clients have created],” he says.  “I would say that working with a lawyer and talking to a lawyer upfront helps to avoid those expensive problems down the line.”  

This article will explain what an intellectual property lawyer does, the sorts of issues an IP lawyer can help you with, and when to seek an IP lawyer’s assistance. 

Why Are Intellectual Property Rights Important? 

When you think about the property your business owns, your mind might go to tangible assets. Tangible assets are physical in nature—things like real estate, buildings, equipment, or materials.  

Physical property is, of course, very important to a company. However, intangible assets are often even more valuable to a company’s business.  

Intangible assets are the company’s intellectual property. 

There are a few main types of intellectual property a business might have, including:  

  • Copyrighted work 
  • Patents 
  • Trademarks 
  • Trade secrets 

Just as a company protects its physical property from being stolen or used in ways it doesn’t approve, a company should also take steps to secure its intellectual property from infringement. 

What Does an Intellectual Property Lawyer Do? 

Intellectual property attorneys are experts in intellectual property law. IP law is a broad, complex, and evolving field of law. As a result, many IP attorneys will specialize in certain areas of IP law. 

For example, one IP attorney might primarily handle patents. Another IP attorney might focus their practice on trademarks. Other lawyers might practice in both patents and trademarks, with perhaps one primary area of focus and other subsidiary areas of focus. Other lawyers are experts in copyright law. 

What this means for your business in a practical sense is that you want to find a lawyer with expertise in the particular issues you’re facing.  

“For patent protections, you are really going to want to work with an attorney who is going to be able to draft a patent application that makes sense for a patent examiner,” says Samuels.  

This is “especially true when you’re talking about drafting the claims for the breadth of coverage on a patent application.”  

“A patent attorney is going to be able to speak the same language as the patent examiner,” he says. “[The lawyer] will be able to process your application in a way that, if you file it on your own, it will most likely be rejected outright as, for example, not disclosing the invention or not providing claims that can be allowed.” 

Lawyers are also helpful “from a trademark and copyright perspective,” says Samuels. With both trademark and copyright, “it’s important to get registrations, which will serve as evidence of your ownership and your ability (in the case of trademarks) to enforce beyond the geographic area that you’ve used the trademark or your ability (in the case of copyrights) to file a lawsuit.” 

“A lawyer is going to be able to advise whether or not it looks like the trademark register is clear and if the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) would accept a trademark,” says Samuels.  

“A lawyer will also be able to draft a coverage for your trademark application in a way that will be as broad as possible for getting you the broadest protection you can get.”  

Thankfully, it’s not hard to figure out a lawyer’s areas of expertise and experience. Lawyers standardly list their background on their websites, explaining their practice and the types of clients they serve.  

If you’re looking for a lawyer, it’s a good idea to check out their website or social media for information about their practice. Search the Super Lawyers directory to find highly qualified lawyers in your area. 

What Can an Intellectual Property Lawyer Help Me With? 

IP lawyers can help you and your business with many intellectual property-related issues.  

As discussed above, IP lawyers can have various areas of expertise. One of the questions you’ll want to ask a lawyer when you meet with them is what legal services they offer. 

The lawyer will be able to tell you if they can help with your particular legal issue. If they can’t, they may be able to refer you to another lawyer. 

In general, IP lawyers can assist with one or more of the following: 

  • Assess your legal issues and give counsel 
  • Copyright registration 
  • Filing a patent application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) 
  • Filing a trademark application with the USPTO 
  • Advising on protecting your inventions through trade secrets 
  • License agreements 
  • Nondisclosure agreements 
  • Taking legal action against intellectual property right infringement 

How Are Intellectual Property Lawyers Paid? 

When you meet with a lawyer for the first time, one of the questions you should ask is how they bill clients.  

When it comes to how lawyers bill clients, “it’s the classic lawyer answer: it depends,” says Samuels.  

“Generally, we see a lot of trademark work done on fixed fees. Copyright filings are also generally on fixed fees,” he says.  

“Patent work is generally done on an hourly basis. Some attorneys will cap the fee—so the lawyer bills hourly, but the fee won’t exceed a particular amount of money.” 

“When talking to attorneys, you should confirm their billing structure for the type of issue you have,” says Samuels.  “And talk to as many lawyers as you possibly can since different attorneys will bill at different rates depending on factors such as their level of experience or the size of the firm they’re at.” 

What Should I Ask an Intellectual Property Lawyer? 

If you are an entrepreneur or small business owner experiencing legal problems regarding your IP rights, speak with a lawyer as soon as possible.  

Many lawyers provide free case reviews for potential clients. These meetings let you get legal advice and decide if the attorney or law firm meets your needs. 

To get the most out of a consultation, ask informed questions such as: 

  • What are your attorney’s fees and billing options? 
  • What is your full range of legal services? 
  • How can I protect my intellectual property rights? 
  • How time-consuming will a lawsuit for IP infringement be? 
  • Are there alternatives to a lawsuit to enforce my IP rights? 

Once you have met with a lawyer and gotten your questions answered, you can begin an attorney-client relationship. 

Look for an intellectual property attorney in the Super Lawyers directory for legal help.

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