Posted by J Matthew Buchanan at May 10, 2005 10:56 AM
Yesterday, as I was feeding my addiction to business and legal news by listening to CNBC via XM radio in the car, I caught an interview with the Small Business Editor at the Wall Street Journal. It was a little piece of business “fluff,” but, for me, it was quite revealing. The piece included a discussion on the early steps entrepreneurs should take to advance their “Big Idea” toward a successful business.
Where should entrepreneurs turn for help with the basics of starting a business, asked the host. Not surprisingly, the guest did not mention patent attorneys.
This is when it hit me: Most patent attorneys do not use their position to help entrepreneurs in the early stages of getting the Big Idea off the ground.
As patent attorneys, entrepreneurs often come to us early in the process. We provide a variety of valuable services, such as conducting patentability searches and infringement analyses, drafting and filing patent applications, and helping people with the patent/trade secret decision.
But, as a group, we do not provide entrepreneurs with needed help in getting their business off the ground…in helping them define and take the “Next Step.” I don’t intend for us to form businesses and draft operating agreements – that’s not our realm. I’m speaking in more general terms, such as making connections with accountants, making introductions to other entrepreneurs, helping them locate office space, lab space, etc.
I’m proud to say that my firm routinely conducts these services for people (and I know the other rethinkers do the same). Recently, I made a connection between the university where I did my graduate work and a client who needed lab space. A relationship was formed, but no lab space was offered. So I took it a step further and worked with the local economic development group. Two months later, my client has lab space in a university building and is working on his Big Idea instead of worrying about finding lab space.
An aside: All the time I spent making the connections (probably several hours) — non-billable. Therein lies the answer to the question of why most big firms frown on these “needy” clients and avoid them to the best of their abilities (high “new client” retainers usually do the trick).
The reason my firm does it is simple. Its a one word (man) answer, as a matter of fact. Fraser. Our senior partner, Don Fraser, has practiced patent law for over 50 years, as did his father before him. His perspective on the practice is that patent attorneys are uniquely positioned to really help the entrepreneurs of this country. Writing patent applications that cover their invention is only a small part of what we can, and should, do for them. Entrepreneurism, as Don likes to say, is a limited resource that must be prized and cared-for properly. It is our responsibility to help in the care for that resource.
Big firms won’t provide these services (some general practice firms may, if the intellectual property partner can refer the “business” matters to a business partner and the time can be billed). This creates an opportunity for the smaller firms of the world.
Sacrifice some billable time and go hug an entrepreneur today!