Entrepreneurs, The Big Idea and The Next Step, or "Have you hugged your local entrepreneur lately?'

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!

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Stephen M. Nipper Says:

May 10, 2005 01:25 PM

Bingo. I couldn't agree more. Ergo my post on reading materials (
Guess what. I received ZERO emails from other attorneys (other than my rethinkers) with suggested reading material they give clients. Either they didn't have time to send me an email OR they don't bother to do such a thing for their clients.

If it is the is further support for Matt's point. Invest some (non-billable) time in your clients... The more successful your clients are, the more successful you will be.

BTW, said post is still in process, feel free to ping me with your suggestions.

Lauren Hart Says:

May 11, 2005 10:32 AM

It's very simple, really. No mystery here.

Most attorneys are not entrepreneurs.

That extends to most patent attorneys, despite being privileged to work on leading edge technologies. Most especially, that extends to partners in patent firms. Most of them couldn't find their way out of a paper bag, and are therefore unable to recognize or understand what entrepreneurial talent might mean to their business.

It takes one to know one. A patent attorney who fits the definition of an entrepreneur is a rare bird, indeed.

Lauren Hart
Reg. Pat. Atty.

Alex Thurgood Says:

May 17, 2005 12:31 PM

I fully adhere to investing non-billable hours in entrepreneurial relationships to help them get off the ground. As the OP stated, most large firms, and in France where I practice this is no exception, aren't interested in this aspect of "counselling". I would agree also with the the comments above, where very few patent attorneys working in private practice actually have any industrial experience, and so know nothing (and probably don't wish to know anything) conceptually about how a business entrepreneur actually goes about trying to get his business off the ground.

This doesn't mean that I'm a saint, I have to feed my family too, but if I can help my client in some way other than strict legal counselling, then I certainly will try.

Alex Thurgood

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