How to Work With Your Intellectual Property Lawyer

By Mikki Barry

In many small businesses, intellectual property is an overlooked asset. The goodwill from your company name, computer programs you have written, articles, manuals, or books that you have written, logos, advertising copy, methods you have used or processes to create your products or services, all should be closely examined in conjunction with a qualified intellectual property attorney, to decide how much value they are to your business, and how they should be properly protected.

There are many different disciplines under which your intellectual property can be protected. These include copyright, trademark, trade secret, method patents, design patents, product patents, and others. You can also consult with your intellectual property attorney to decide whether or not to extend your intellectual property protection world wide, or just keep it national.

If your business could be impacted by competitors copying your name, your logo, your products, your services, or anything else integral to your business' success, you owe it to yourself, your employees and your shareholders to protect it in the strongest way possible. Fine yourself a good intellectual property attorney with specific knowledge of your particular business genre who can help you "lock down" your investment.

What Should You Look For in an Intellectual Property Attorney?

Intellectual property is a field in which an attorney has to know not only the law, but must also have a sense about the potential client's business goals, practices, and ethical stance. These elements are not always obvious, so it is in the client's best interest to inquire in an initial interview not only how long s/he has been practicing this particular type of law, but also what type of businesses the intellectual property attorney has had experience with, as well as how "gung ho" the attorney is. For example, if your business wishes to take a balanced view of protection, going after only infringers that you feel are causing serious damage, if your intellectual property attorney delights in dropping nuclear bomb style threat letters on indigent college students and little old ladies, perhaps you would do better with an attorney more in line with your personal ethical structure.

Other things to look for in an attorney include whether or not your personal communications style meshes with that of the intellectual property lawyer. A good example is email communication. Email, for many business owners, is a much more efficient and usually cheaper method of communication. As an added bonus, you have a written record of the exchange in case of later misunderstanding. If your business runs on email contact and your attorney uses pen and paper, this may not work out in your best interests.

Once You Find an Intellectual Property Attorney, Then What?

What do you do once you've found your intellectual property attorney? Communicate clearly what your objectives are and let the attorney make suggestions to you as to how to reach those objectives. Intellectual property law is often highly complex and legally technical. If you have questions, ask the intellectual property attorney. If they don't communicate with you, their client, in clear English terms, ask them to. Oftentimes, lawyers forget that they are dealing with non-lawyers and may fall back on legal jargon. If they can't explain concepts to you in a way you understand, perhaps you should find an attorney who will.

On the other hand, you should not expect your intellectual property lawyer to boil 3 years of law school and decades of experience into a fifteen minute "Cliff Notes" summary. As with all things, finding a balance where both of you are comfortable is of great importance.

As a legal client, do not forget that you are in the driver's seat. Your intellectual property attorney can't make business decisions for you. You must weigh his or her advice carefully, then make your decisions as an informed consumer of legal services. Your decisions should feel "right" to you. Insist that your intellectual property lawyer lay out the scenario to you and give you appropriate cost estimates, time estimates, and how the attorney thinks that this action (or inaction) will be of benefit to your business.

Mikki Barry is a business and intellectual property attorney for technology and small business companies. More information is available at


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