Double Agent: Hiring The Right Lawyer For Patent Disputes

Remember when your firm conference called your biggest client on Skype? No? Well, law firms may not always be on the cutting edge of technology, but their corporate clients are.

In fact, 27 percent of women business owners said in 2006 that they would invest in new technology such as computers and software over the next six months, according to OPEN from American Express via Entrepreneur.

And, by 2007, 300,000 entrepreneurs claimed Skype would become their primary means of business communication, according to Albert Lin at American Technology Research via Entrepreneur.

In addition to computer technology, mobile technology over the years has been on the rise. In 2010, business use of mobile IM led to a $2 billion-plus market in Western Europe and North America, according to Strategy Analytics via Entrepreneur.

In the U.S. alone, 31 percent of mobile-phone owners had a smartphone as of December 2010, according to a Nielsen report. The same report expects smartphones to become the majority of all American-owned phones by the end of 2011.

With technology playing such a vital role in the engineering and products of so many companies, patents to protect these business interests have become equally important. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the demand for patent lawyers is on the rise.

According to a Bloomberg Businessweek article today, patent attorneys may account for more than 15 percent of law firm job openings while representing only 3 percent of all U.S. lawyers.

“There is a boom in Intellectual Property (IP) with many openings in what is usually a niche practice,” T.J. Duane, a principal at legal recruitment firm Lateral Link, said in a phone interview to Bloomberg.

In the event qualified candidates are unavailable, Duane believes “some firms may end up closing their positions or repurposing the general practice attorneys to focus on the nontechnical sides of these complex cases.”

Thus, aspiring or current lawyers should consider adding the Patent Bar Exam to their pedigree. Patent Agents are specialized in the preparation, filing, and prosecution of patent applications. Patent attorneys are then uniquely qualified to discuss issues with their clients regarding patent validity, infringement, and IP litigation, to name a few.

A combination of these two expertise—especially for recent law school grads—is just what industry recruiters are looking for. It adds to the level of diversity crucial for stand-out attorneys and interesting legal job candidates.

Hiring patent lawyers is not always a defensive strategy. With so much IP conflict these days, some law firms have gone on the offensive when it comes to gathering new work.

Take, for example, media-dubbed patent troll Innovatio IP Ventures, a new company making news for its attempts to profit from monetary settlements with hotels, coffee shops, and restaurant chains advertising WiFi.

Recent suits filed by Matthew McAndrews, a partner at Chicago-based law firm Niro, Haller & Niro, essentially claim if your business offers Wi-Fi to its customers, you owe Innovatio a one-time lump sum licensing payment of $2,300 to $5,000, according to an article Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols in ZDNet.

“Why are they doing this? To make money of course. No, they won’t see the millions and billions that big patent lawsuit can bring in, but those cases can take years. By suing small businesses for using a technology, they’re picking on companies without the first clue on how to deal with a patent lawsuit,” writes Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols in ZDNet.

More surprising than the fact that Innovatio IP Ventures has yet to face a class-action lawsuit is the idea that even small-business owners are not immune to high-cost, high-profile IP claims. Everybody must lawyer-up—a trend that further confirms the rising need for specialized patent attorneys.

With or without increased IP litigation, law firms should already be keeping clients apprised of business applications and impacts of the new patent law passed by Congress.

Firms (and both large and small corporate clients) across the nation can’t help but ask themselves, are we prepared?

So no matter what field of law your firm currently practices, a staff patent attorney should be in your future.

And, despite lawsuits suggesting the contrary, there has never been a better time for electrical engineering, computer science, and computer engineering students to attend law school.

-WB

For more information, attend C4CM’s course, “Writing Accurate and Defensible Job Descriptions that Comply with the ADA and FLSA.

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