I occasionally receive requests from independent inventors and very small companies (or their non-patent attorney representatives) looking for patent prosecution representation from someone qualified, inexpensive, and open to a fixed-budget who will honest, quality work. Is there a reputable service that helps match prosepective patent attorneys/agents with prosepctive clients? Here are some initial thoughts:
NAPP: The best national resource that I know of for individuals and very small companies is the National Association of Patent Practitioners (NAPP). In my experience, most NAPP members are associated with small law firms and tend to do a better job of working with individuals. The NAPP website has a directory of members that is divided according to location and areas of technology. Of course, the NAPP site does not include any “ratings.” Many local IP Bar Associations also include a referral service. Again, those do not include any attorney ratings.
Getting a Personal Recommendation: An inventor may not know anyone in the industry or even any other local inventors. One easy way to find this type of information is through patent records that are all available online at the USPTO. Using the USPTO search, an inventor can locate other local inventors and then contact them to ask for a recommendation for a patent attorney or patent agent. This is an easy way to network and find a referral. Of course, anyone trying this should be cautious about pre-filing disclosure of the invention.
Self-Help: Read Patent-It-Yourself, but still hire a patent law professional. The best patents that I have seen are drafted with substantial participation from both inventors and patent law professionals. I have seen high quality patents that were entirely drafted and prosecuted by the non-attorney, non-agent inventor. However, in those instances, the inventor had been through the patenting process dozens of times already—learning lessons through experience. Hospitals are full of well trained and well-meaning professionals. However, any hospitalized patient still needs an advocate in order to make sure the patient is receiving the best care that is most in-line with the needs of the patient. Patent prosecution is the same way, do not expect that you can simply drop-off the invention with the professional and expect that you will receive the type of patent that fills your needs.
Caveat: Since many non-attorneys are likely to read this, I’ll restate the obvious: this is not legal advice.