What to Expect when Calling a Patent Attorney

Over the years I have received quite a number of e-mail inquiries and telephone calls from inventors who are looking for information and advice. Typically, the initial communication starts off with the inventor saying that they have an invention that they know will be well received in the market and that they are looking for a patent attorney who can represent them. They request that a patent attorney call them as soon as possible to move forward. This is a red flag for a patent attorney and understanding why will help you become a more sophisticated consumer of legal services.




  1. Every patent attorney gets these kinds of e-mails and telephone calls every day. If I were to call everyone back who wanted to talk to me I would have no time to do any work and would go bankrupt in a hurry. I am not unique though. All patent attorneys are barraged with these types of questions on a daily basis.
  2. Those who ask for a telephone call or a free telephone consultation before deciding whether they want you to represent them almost never turn into clients.
  3. While it might seem like an easy, quick question to you, the truth is that it is not an easy or quick question. There are simply no easy, quick questions that can be asked in the patent and invention space.
  4. Patent attorneys are very busy and have a lot of work from clients who pay them in advance for doing work and answering questions. It is unrealistic to expect that a patent attorney would willingly put work aside that pays in order to talk to someone for free, particularly when those who request free consultations rarely, if ever, turn into paying clients.
  5. There is nothing a patent attorney can tell you before conducting a patent search. If you are not interested in paying for a professional patent search and a patentability assessment then you should not expect any reputable patent attorney to speak with you, unless of course you are willing to pay an hourly fee in advance for the conversation.
  6. Patent attorneys do not sign confidentiality agreements. Asking a patent attorney to sign a confidentiality agreement is a sign that you are not sophisticated in this area and that you are already contemplating suing the attorney. Patent attorneys, including me, run away from clients who ask for confidentiality agreements. This is because all patent attorneys and patent agents are required by the USPTO to maintain the confidences and secrets of their clients. This legal requirement is set forth in 37 C.F.R. § 10.57.

This may seem harsh, but it is critically important for inventors to understand the industry and how it works if they want to have any chance at obtaining competent legal assistance. There is absolutely no benefit in falling prey to those who will take time to talk to you and prey on your dreams by telling you that your invention is the best things since sliced bread and then proceed to con you out of many thousands of dollars for no good reason. This is exactly how the invention scams and shady operators work in the invention/patent space. They talk to you, promise you the world, and then you cough up $10,000 or $12,000 without ever having a “real” patent search done.

What do I mean about “real” patent search? It is well known in our industry how invention scams operate. They get you to pay $800 or more for a patent search, which is by no means a bargain price. For example, my firm, White + Quinn, charges only $600 for a patent search and that search will be conducted by a retired patent examiner who will then talk to you about the search and whether moving forward makes sense. Regardless of these searches being over priced, what happens is the searcher determines which US classification your invention fits into and then goes to that classification and provides you with the 10 to 20 most recent patents classified under that number. But what if your invention was actually patented by someone else 10, 15 or 20 years ago? Well, you won’t know about that until the patent examiner rejects your application with prior art that could easily have been found, but wasn’t. By this time you are out at least $12,000, and likely a lot more.

If you want someone reliable and reputable to help you then you need to understand the process and have realistic expectations. How many people call doctors and say that they want to make an appointment to be seen, but first they want to talk to the doctor on the phone for free to determine whether to move forward. Give this a try and the receptionist answering the phone is going to laugh and/or just hang up. That is not how professionals operate, and not how reputable patent attorneys operate. Yes, personal injury attorneys offer free consultations, but patent law is very different. There is no pot of gold waiting for a patent attorney at the end of the rainbow. When you make money on an hourly basis there simply cannot be free consultations.

If you have a question you can easily find the answer, so do not expect a patent attorney to drop everything to explain to you one-on-one what you could have discovered on your own. IPWatchdog.com has answers to virtually any question you could ask regarding patents and inventing. If you have a question that is not answered here then what you can do is call the United States Patent Office. Yes, the Patent Office runs an Inventor Help Line and also has a lot of great information on their Inventors Resource Page. The Inventor Help Line number is 800-786-9199.

So the moral of the story is this: if you have an invention and you want competent, reputable representation then you have to be prepared to pay a fair wage and not expect to speak with a patent attorney until you have entered into a representation agreement and have pre-paid by providing a refundable retainer deposit.

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2 comments so far.

  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    August 25, 2008 11:46 am

    Sorry Dr. Obviousso. I just don’t believe what you are saying is true. And if you have a doctor that will talk to you about your symptoms over the phone and give you free medical advice on what you need to do before he/she sees you then that is one doctor that you should not go to see. It is irresponsible for a doctor to provide free medical advice without an office visit. Additionally, if a doctor has enough time to talk to patients who call in then the doctor is not likely very good. The same is true for patent attorneys. If you can call right in and demand to talk to a patent attorney and the patent attorney picks up the phone that means the patent attorney is not very busy, and if that is the case then you need to ask why.

    This is exactly the analogy I want to use. While it is common to tell the receptionist what is wrong with you and why you want to see the doctor, it is unrealistic to think that the doctor is going to diagnose you on the telephone.

    It is equally unrealistic to expect a patent attorney to provide free legal information over the phone. In the past while I was teaching full time and doing IPWatchdog as a service and not a business I would talk to inventors, who would gladly take up 20, 30, 40 minutes or longer. Then would not want to pay for any additional consultation or services. Many times I had inventors finally tell me “well, that is exactly what my patent attorney said, but I didn’t believe him and just wanted to check.” At which point I would abruptly end the call. Since leaving academia and running my own business I just don’t talk to inventors unless they are willing to pay me in advance for my time. This weeds out those who are serious with those who are just looking for free stuff.

  • [Avatar for drobviousso]
    drobviousso
    August 25, 2008 09:22 am

    “How many people call doctors and say that they want to make an appointment to be seen, but first they want to talk to the doctor on the phone for free to determine whether to move forward.”
    Erm.. I ask this all the time. Usually it’s a nurse, but depending on the practice, I sometimes speak to a doctor.

    In fact, I never make an appointment without discussing the symptoms or reason for the visit.

    I’m not disputing the rest of the article, but I’m not sure this is an analogy you want to make.

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