An online attorney consultation can be super valuable- even if it's free
Almost every day I do an online attorney consultation with an inventor who is deciding how to take the first step toward marketing and selling their design. Many are deciding whether to patent, while some are still learning about what a patent is and what it can do for them. Patenting is a very valuable and technical process, and it is a great idea to talk to a lawyer early. Timing is very important to the patent application process, and there is a reason why so many patent attorneys offer free consultations.
First, a little background on patent policy- feel free to skip ahead a couple of paragraphs if policy isn't your thing. Patent rights were written into the constitution by the founding fathers to encourage the advancement of the arts. The deal the country makes with inventors is this: if you make something new that no one has ever seen before and you tell us everything you know about how to make and use this invention, then we will give you a patent and allow you exclude everyone else from making the invention for a limited period of 20 years. If you have a patent, you have a legal monopoly over the idea, and this granted right gives you significant power in the marketplace. The tradeoff being that after the 20-year period, your invention becomes public domain and the pool of public knowledge will be expanded. Win-win.
There are caveats, obviously. A major one being that if you do not promptly file for patent, you will forever lose your right to a patent. The theory goes that if you tell others about your invention, you have already placed the knowledge in the public domain, so there is nothing to exchange for the legal monopoly. Many other countries are extremely strict on this front, and they require that the patent filing be the very first public disclosure of the idea- even telling one person about the idea before filing is enough to destroy patent rights. America is more lenient, allowing an inventor a one-year grace period after the first public disclosure of their invention before they will lose their patent rights. This concept is known as a statutory bar, and it is critical to the patenting process. Lawyers are paid to argue, but the statutory bars are inarguable. Once the year has passed, it’s game over.
As I alluded to earlier, statutory bars are why so many patent lawyers offer free online attorney consults. A very small amount of advice can go a long way in protecting intellectual property. I cannot tell you how many times I have spoken with inventors of genuinely good and marketable ideas that are no longer patentable because they put it on sale too early or showed it to a manufacturer without the proper legal documents in place. Public disclosure actually has a fairly technical definition in patent law, and a lawyer can advise on what actions you can take to avoid starting the one-year clock running or whether it is running already.
Offers for sale will initiate the one-year clock, but what constitutes an offer for sale is also a technical issue that an experienced lawyer can readily parse, but is very difficult to determine without a thorough understanding of the law.
A simple example that I frequently encounter is that an inventor wants to commercialize their idea, but they need investors. If they demonstrate the invention to potential investors with a nondisclosure agreement in place, the clock will not start running, but without the agreement the statutory bar starts to become an issue. Kickstarter can kill a patent, but it doesn't have to. I feel a genuine sense of loss when the statutory bar prevents a potential client from patenting an invention. Sure, I would love to write a patent for them, but the much larger issue is that some of these lost patents can be life-changing for inventors, and I understand that they are rare for most individuals.
We want to help you with your patent. Obviously, the free online attorney consult is not a completely altruistic gesture- we want to you preserve your ability to get your patent so that we can help you with it once you are ready. Perhaps you are not ready yet- the invention just is not quite there or complete. This is the perfect time to start a discussion with a lawyer because we can tell you what you can do and avoid doing to preserve your rights. Perhaps your invention is complete, but you are not sure what the next step should be. A free online attorney consult with a lawyer can be tremendously helpful to deciding how to proceed with getting your idea out there in the marketplace, regardless of whether that involves patenting or not.
A free online attorney consult is not just a sales pitch- it is real legal advice on how or whether to proceed with protecting your intellectual property. Call us early- it’s free!