How long does a patent last?
Chris: Yeah, that's a good question. They changed the rules a few years ago. It used to be seventeen years from when your patent issued. They changed it to twenty years. If you file and they get your patent issued within three years, then you actually have more time than under the old system. That was part of the negotiation when they changed the law. They didn't want to shorten patent terms.
How do you enforce the patent? Let's say some guy steals my idea. What do you do?
Chris: There's a whole other sub-specialty of litigators in patent law who file a lawsuit on your behalf and try to collect royalties from a potential infringer. Lawsuits are expensive and that's a tough business. Ideally you would work something out with the potential infringer before you had to file a lawsuit. It seems like both parties would be open to that, but in reality, anyone who gets a letter from someone else about a potential infringement always says, “The other side has a bogus patent and they're trying to shake me down.”
Do you get involved in that kind of litigation?
Chris: Not much. We're more about dealing with the Patent Office. Attorneys that deal with the Patent Office are prosecutors or do patent prosecution. Attorneys that deal with lawsuits are litigators.
I saw a glossary of terms. Three that stuck out to me were “copyright”, “trademark”, and “trade secret”. What are they?
Chris: Right, so the three main issues are patents, trademarks, and copyrights. Trade secrets are another little twist in there. A patent is for an invention, a trademark is for a name, and a copyright is for a written work. If you invent, say, a new fishing lure, you'd want to get a patent on that. If you called the fishing lure some kind of fancy name, then that would be your trademark. Your copyright would be your graphics on the package, for instance.
What should we look for in an intellectual property attorney? You talked about that. The ways you keep your costs down, the stuff you specialize in and you're really good at. Is there anything else we should look for in an intellectual property attorney?
Chris: Number of years of experience is important. You don't want someone brand new. An attorney out of law school, it takes them two years to learn how to be an even serviceable patent attorney. That's how long the training is. They should be working under another partner for those years.
After that, it's a sliding scale between two and four years to be good at it. Once you get to a five year time frame, that's pretty much where you've become a real functioning patent attorney. Anyone less than five years, I'd be a little bit suspect.
Our guest today is Chris Maiorana with Christopher P. Maiorana P.C. His law firm's got three patent lawyers. Hey Chris, how do we reach you guys?
Chris: If you want to send us an email through the website, it's maioranapc.com or you could call us at 586-498-0670.
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