Last week I was in San Francisco, California teaching the PLI patent bar review course, and now I am in San Diego, California, on a promotion tour. Today I spoke at California Western School of Law about the patent bar exam, being a patent attorney, resumes that work and how to find a job. I will give the same presentation at Thomas Jefferson School of Law on Thursday afternoon, followed by a presentation on patent blogging for the San Diego Intellectual Property Law Association that evening, at the Del Mar Marriott.
Having just talked to law students about getting their resumes ready in case the economy does come back to life sooner than some expect, I thought I might write about my thoughts on the economy, where patent practice is headed, when we will get out of our economic malaise and how to prepare yourself in advance to be ready when the job market, and patent market, turns the corner, which we all know it will do.
First, unlike many if not most of those who are issuing predictions about the likely state of the economy in 2011, I have a bullish view. While the elections are just one week from today and no one can know what our national and state leadership will look like exactly, if history is any guide and polls mean anything it seems exceptionally likely that one week from today will be a big Republican victory. Even if you want to take a safe or cautious view on the prediction front, it is safe to say that there will be more Republicans in Congress and almost certainly more Republicans in Governor’s mansions across the country. The White House will still be occupied by President Obama, so we will have divided leadership, at least on the federal level, which seems to be about the way that Americans typically like their government.
Divided leadership, or even Democratic leadership but with a much small majority will mean that it will be even harder to get through any agenda that tends to the strong left, and there will be no strong right agenda during Obama’s last two years. That means that whatever happens next Tuesday the policies that will be pursued and which will have the strongest likelihood of passing are those that range from the slightly left to the slightly right, with a strong emphasis of down the middle, common sense politics. So less will get done, which should lead to at least an end to the uncertainty of what could lie ahead in terms of legislation and regulation.
The election of November 2, 2010, is important for another reason. As soon as the polls close and the winners are declared the 2012 Presidential cycle will begin. It seems safe to say that there will be a large number of newcomers to the House and the Senate, some without much, if any, political experience. This crowd of new Congressmen and Congresswomen will undoubtedly be trying to make a difference and engage endeavors to right the economy. Simultaneously, President Obama will be starting his campaign for re-election and he will also ever increasingly tend toward policies that are most likely to stimulate the economy and away from the social engineering legislation that has so far marked his Presidency.
President Obama is already reportedly studying the Clinton Presidency and the so-called Clinton pivot toward the center after the 1994 election, so it would seem that there is a confluence of events starting to come together that should tend toward better economic policies — which means more stable, less uncertain climate for business. With discussion already that the Bush tax cuts may be extended across the board, it is easy to predict a more friendly business climate over the next two years than over the previous two years.
Pundits I have heard talk about the economy suggest that there is anywhere from $1 trillion to $3 trillion sitting in business bank accounts just waiting for a signal. As that money starts to go online jobs will be created, the economy will look up and consumer confidence will start to rise, all of which are critical to signal a new economic re-invigoration. I sense that 2011 will be a better year than what most are predicting because I see signs that the economy is ready to explode, waiting for good news and reason to no longer fear the unknown.
Patent searchers I speak to tell me their business is up, my own patent business is up, and small to mid-size firms I speak to report that they have work coming in. In the patent industry it seems that the largest firms are on the ropes, perhaps never to come back to their full glory. The large IP boutique model seems to be crumbling as companies move toward lower cost, yet quality services that can be offered when you don’t have marble flooring and mahogany conference tables. So the work in our industry is filtering down to those high-quality boutiques that offer good prices due to low overhead. Work from independent inventors, small businesses and start-up companies is filtering into solo practitioners and smaller firms, so it seems to me that the reason there is not hiring at the moment isn’t because the work isn’t there, it is because there is a fear that the work will again vanish or that the influx of new client matters won’t last.
Positive news moving forward into 2011 should continue to be good news for the patent industry, which is a leading indicator given that those inventing and applying for patents frequently also are forming new companies or expanding. In either event they are frequently hiring, which is an important part of what will eventually get Americans to realize it is safe to return to the economy as usual. Of course, in the United States we have a consumer based economy, with nearly 70% of our economy driven by consumer spending. So job creation is critically important to turning things around, and innovation has historically played an important role in that. So news that patent filings where up 4% in FY 2010 together with anecdotal information about more work for patent attorneys and patent searchers gives an important clue that businesses and inventors might be ready to move forward, which can only snowball confidence if tied with a more mainstream political agenda that the vast majority of Americans can support. That was the Clinton model in 1994-1996, and it could well be the Obama model in 2010-2012, particularly if he can find Republican allies to work with, as President Clinton found in Speaker Gingrich.
Law students and those patent attorneys and agents who are looking for work don’t have much reason to hope currently, I know. For the last while we have been in the customary pre-election business holding cycle, which I have seen all too often. If things go as predicted by most there may still be some caution during a lame duck Congress, but the economy should turn the corner moving into 2011 and through the first quarter of 2011. That means that for those looking for work you need to be ready. Dust off your resumes, start working on your writing samples, prepare your list of references and be out and about networking. Join local bar groups, particularly patent bar groups and intellectual property law bar groups. Students can attend PLI programs on scholarship for $25, and that can be a nice place to meet industry leaders and network. The key is that you need to keep your head up and be ready. If you have not taken the patent bar exam yet and have been putting it off consider signing up for a review course, taking and passing the exam over the next 3 to 6 months. Get our affairs in order now, because when things pop everyone will be rushing and those who have it all together will be the ones in the drivers seat before others even get out of the starting gate.
Even if I am wrong, ask yourself these questions:
- Does it ever hurt to network?
- Does it ever hurt to make sure your resume is up to date?
- Is it a bad idea to have a writing sample ready to go?
- Is it a bad idea to already have passed the patent bar when looking for a job?
You all know the answer to these questions. It never hurts to be prepared. If I am right and you follow this advice you will likely have a leg up as others scramble once the economy has clearly turned the corner. If I am wrong what is the worst that could happen? You had to endure a rubber chicken dinner or two? Who knows, maybe the economy won’t turn around but you working to put yourself in the right position might cause you to get noticed and create an opportunity for yourself even while we are experiencing the post-Recession-pre-Election malaise of 2010.