Your website mentions you have worked on over 1,600 issued patents. How many pages is that?
Chris: It's a lot of pages.
The patent office uses two columns for each page with an 8 or 9 point font, printed on front and back. Stacks and stacks of paper. We have three or four attorneys at the firm and a few clerks and support staff. It's a large volume of work to say the least.
This gives you a good idea of why you need a patent lawyer in Macomb County to get a patent issued. Tell me, do you work for large corporate clients or small businesses or individual investors?
Chris: A little bit of all of those. Our main bread and butter clients are corporate clients that give us repeat business, but we also work for individual inventors. And, we've had a fair amount of success with the smaller-sized businesses around town.
How does your approach change for each client?
Chris: The old adage is the client knows best and is the boss. We go with that. We adapt and flex based on what each client needs. Larger clients tend to have more structured and strict procedures that they want to follow, because they have a lot of people working on not just the patent files but they'll have an accounting department and maybe an in-house patent attorney. If they want us to do things in a certain format, we can do that. We adapt fairly quickly and effectively. Some large clients even have custom databases we access and upload to.
We know a small client is not going to have that same setup. They might not necessarily know what's involved in the Patent process up front. We can do a two-step process where we not only guide them through the process, but we'll explain what the next step is as we are formulating the legal strategies that work well with small clients in metro Detroit that need patent legal help.
Also, some people like a lot of e-mail correspondence. We can do that. Some like to talk on the phone. We can do that. We're flexible.
Do your clients have success?
Chris: It's hard to measure success, but in general, yes. Large clients might get into litigations with other large clients, and the sheer volume of the portfolio is an asset. I have an analogy that I tell people a lot. If you have one patent and you print it out on a piece of paper and you're sitting across the table and I throw it at you, you might get a paper cut if it hits you. If I have a banker box full of these things and throw them at you, you might break your finger or arm catching it. If I drop a pallet of these on your head, it might kill you. If you're going to tangle with another big company and they have 10,000 patents and you have 1,000 patents, it's tough.
So, corporate clients do pure volume but they still need quality.
We had a situation where it was a 10/1 ratio. Instead of a truce and a cross-license (e.g. we can each use each other's technology), the company with 1,000 patents, as opposed to 10,000, had to make fairly large cash payment to balance it out. They could have used that money to develop their own portfolio which is what they did moving forward.
A couple more things on a measure of success. We had several medium-sized clients over the last 10 years that had significant buyouts and that’s great for a small company. They get their patents protected and they get leveraged and bought out by a big company. We had at least two that had nine-figure deals. Those companies did quite well.
One CEO was quite happy with a patent and he made it into a crystal paperweight. He told everyone, "This is my million dollar patent." That one was a success.
We had another that was incorporated into video standards. That’s valuable because the way video standards work, everyone contributes their patents to the standard, if accepted. There's a process for that acceptance. They incorporate them and then they get a prorated share of the revenue from the standards based on how many patents they contributed. We had success with that as well.
As a small law firm, Chris, can you provide the stability of a larger firm?
Chris: Yes. Our firm has been in business for 18 years with pretty much the same attorneys. If you go to a big law firm, there’s a lot of turnover and partners even come and go. If you think of what happened in those time frames, a lot of stuff went down. For instance the .com crash around 2001, and since we do a lot of work for Silicon Valley, it was a big deal. We had the financial meltdown in 2008. Through both of those things, we had stability.
How do you implement cost savings?
Chris: If it works for the client, we quote a flat rate for each service. So, if we are preparing a patent application, once we understand if it fits within our general parameters, we can give a flat rate quote. Then the client knows the cost and their bill doesn’t increase if they call us with questions. Questions at the right time are very effective. We'll ask questions of the client when we are preparing a draft patent application. Hopefully they'll ask us questions.
What’s more, we are good at processing routine items. So, if the client needs a copy of an Office Action when it comes out, we do that right away. With the patent office deadlines, you usually get 90 days to respond or you have to pay for extensions. You want to avoid paying for extensions. There's no need for it. We get documents to client right away with questions.
The other thing is that since we are not a big law firm with gigantic billable hour requirements, we don't have the pressure to inflate the bills to the client. I was just at an in-person meeting with an out-of-state client. They said that they were really happy with the work we've been doing, and it was a huge contrast to the work they had seen from attorneys they had in the past. They said these other attorneys seemed to have pushed more work onto them rather than just doing it themselves. We do a lot with a little, either with the information or with the time that's authorized. Overall, since we are so flexible being a small firm, we can really adapt. So we’re really able to help folks in greater Detroit with patent law.
Larger firms have to go to partner and administrative meetings. They have meetings for everything. Sometimes they have trouble even getting their work done as they have so many inner-firm meetings. We don't have any of that. We can cut right to it and work on the patent files.
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