Dear Law Firm: An IP Client’s (Satirical) ‘Love’ Letter

By Carlo Cotrone
July 26, 2019

Dear Law Firm: Our engagement has lasted longer than many, but I have to be honest with you: I feel like we’re just going through the motions. Our relationship feels so one-sided, divided, and transactional—an infringement of what is healthy, right, and good.

[To the superstitious, July is often considered an unlucky month for weddings. In a nod to such lore, and to the leisurely and whimsical days of summer, this is a satirical “love” letter from a fictitious client to its fictitious outside intellectual property counsel, a domestic or foreign law firm. The firm has been providing IP representation to the client for quite some time. Unbeknownst to the firm, but acutely felt by the client, their relationship is on the rocks. In a final act of desperation, the client penned these words in hopes that the firm will move swiftly to help heal the brokenness.] 

law firm. https://depositphotos.com/8979501/stock-photo-love-letter-emblem-as-red.htmlDear Law Firm:

I don’t know how we got here, and why I even should have to write you this letter. You should know what it takes to sustain and grow a mutually fulfilling long-term relationship. You should know enough—and care enough—to check in with me periodically to make sure we’re on the same page. But you don’t seem to, so I guess it’s up to me to get these issues out in the open before it’s too late. You may object to the grounds for concern below, but consider yourself on notice.

It feels like a lifetime since our stars first aligned. I don’t remember why you stood out among the plurality of those vying for my attention, and why engagement felt so right. There must have been a compelling reason. Maybe it was your experience and depth that seemed so compatible with my needs at the time. Maybe it was the way you radiated seemingly genuine concern, affability, passion, and talent. Maybe it was your patent self-confidence and way with words, your solemn pledge to be better and truer than any of the others, that persuaded me to say yes.

Our engagement has lasted longer than many, but I have to be honest with you: I feel like we’re just going through the motions. Our relationship feels so one-sided, divided, and transactional—an infringement of what is healthy, right, and good.

Too often, you look to me to get the ball rolling on things we need to tackle together, and to raise touchy topics. Yes, you do what I ask without argument, you’re very accommodating of my preferences and idiosyncrasies, and you usually accomplish items on our to-do list diligently, competently, and even expertly. Sometimes your resourcefulness impresses me. But I want, and need, a partner who excels at more than obviousness.

I feel like you’re a stranger; that you only show up when I ask. When is the last time we spoke, or at least spoke about matters that go beyond day-to-day distractions and current events? You’re most comfortable writing flowery emails filled with superfluous, indefinite content, obscuring what is material. When I don’t respond to your barrage of messages, you just send more. Showering me with that kind of attention may help you sleep better, but it’s a serious burden on me. I get so frustrated and wish you would try to truly communicate, that we could have a heart-to-heart exchange to transform and restore our relationship. Would that be so novel?

Neither of us can deny that money issues have been a sore spot since the very beginning. I’m admittedly cost-conscious, trying to be a good steward of finances, even when that requires belt-tightening or just maintaining the status quo on spending. You’re wired much differently. You come from a cohort driven by profit-making. I used to live that life myself and know how challenging it can be to restrict the associated pressures. Still, I’ve got to pay the bills and answer to a higher power. And it’s hard for me to feel good about subsidizing your allowance when other fundamentals of our relationship are so out of kilter.

Sometimes I wonder how you can seem so withdrawn, so oblivious to my needs and the obstacles in my path, so willing to churn through life as long as I keep footing the bill. Do you ever reexamine our relationship and ask yourself how much more thought and energy you could invest? I wish you took more initiative than you do, that you were a fully committed co-leader. You have a support system that you could draw from, to enrich what you offer and make us both stronger.

It’s true that I bring my own baggage, that I’m high-maintenance and not always easy to be with. You’ve never told me directly, but I suspect that you’d like me to share more about my inner life, and to involve you in my most important decisions. I also get the sense that you think my expectations of you are unreasonable, that I don’t value you enough. What doesn’t seem to register is that you could build up my trust and commitment by going out on a limb more often than you do.

This is all to say that I feel like throwing in the towel unless things change. You must know that I constantly get overtures from others who plead with me to break off our engagement—to finally reject you and pursue a more meaningful connection. I’d prefer not to abandon our shared history in favor of an unknown quantity, especially one who makes big promises that may ultimately amount to sweet nothings, or to more inequitable conduct.

So, here’s my appeal:

  1. Show up more often and listen more attentively.

To get closer to me, you need to pursue real communication on a frequent basis. Call me, and visit with me in person when possible, so we can really talk. Try to draw me out, to understand what I’m dealing with, my priorities, and how you can pitch in to lighten the load. If you become the embodiment of a committed questioner and listener, I’ll provide candid, actionable feedback.

  1. Be a less passive, and more proactive, partner.

I’m not flattered when you stand back, waiting for me to lead, direct, and decide. I do appreciate respect and deference when appropriate, but that’s no license to be a habitual follower. To win my trust and admiration, you should be a true self-starter, to help shine the light on growth opportunities, and on potential solutions to vexing problems.

  1. Surprise and wow me.

I petition you to submit fresh, imaginative, and inventive ideas to make my life better, to help me be more successful and effective. It doesn’t matter to me whether you recycle notions you gleaned from other relationships, or you experience a flash of genius yourself. If you add some sparkle, you’ll knock me off my feet, and in the process, we’ll both flourish.

  1. Get your own house in order.

It’s common general knowledge that you can’t be an amazing partner unless you approach a relationship from a place of wholeness. I only have a limited window into your world, but I’m fairly confident that it has its share of skeletons in the closet. Try your utmost to address those problems so they’re less toxic to our present and future.

  1. Don’t take our relationship for granted.

If you truly want to extend the term of our engagement, you’ve got to make a continuing investment. Clinging to what’s easy and comfortable, and what worked for us in the past, may not be sufficient going forward. Loyalty may form part of our bond, but it’s no substitute for substance.

In closing, please know that I write these words out of deep respect for you. I truly hope that you recognize the validity of my claims, and that you’ll take accelerated, concrete steps to revive our relationship while there’s still time.

Sincerely,

Current* IP Client

* Client status is subject to change.

This article reflects my current personal views and should not be necessarily attributed to my current or former employers, or their respective clients or customers.

 

Image Source: Deposit Photos
Image ID: 8979501
Copyright: nbvf89 

The Author

Carlo Cotrone

Carlo Cotrone is Senior IP Counsel at Baker Hughes, a GE company (“BHGE”). As lead IP counsel for three BHGE business units, he manages the development and execution of offensive and defensive IP strategies, provides IP and general corporate advice, and negotiates agreements with licensees, customers, and suppliers. He also is Adjunct Professor of Law at University of Houston Law Center, and a frequent conference speaker and blog contributor on topics such as IP strategy and asset management, legal ethics, collaboration and innovation strategies for law firms and corporate legal departments, and professional development. Carlo is the inventor of two United States patents directed to digital sheet music technology. Previously, he practiced law at several firms on the East Coast and in the Midwest, most recently as a partner.

Warning & Disclaimer: The pages, articles and comments on IPWatchdog.com do not constitute legal advice, nor do they create any attorney-client relationship. The articles published express the personal opinion and views of the author and should not be attributed to the author’s employer, clients or the sponsors of IPWatchdog.com. Read more.

Discuss this

There are currently 22 Comments comments. Join the discussion.

  1. Anon July 26, 2019 8:09 am

    “It’s not you, it’s me.”

  2. Anon July 26, 2019 8:21 am

    Or another possible response…

    We have a business arrangement and we are not married.

    If you want more than you should not presume that merely being on the client side somehow entitles you to more.

    You seem to want to accuse me of being concerned with profit while you want to spin that same view for yourself as some half-@$$ed “but I have to be a good steward,” and your entreaties here come across as mewling whining of wanting more value without paying for it.

    Respectfully, if you are not satisfied with the business arrangement that we had mutually agreed to, I expect you to be professional about it and not attempt to want more without paying for that more by dressing up your wants in a trite “love letter” guilt-fest.

    Sorry (but not sorry) if the reality of business hurts your feelings, but our “profit motive” is ALSO merely “good stewardship,” and we do not appreciate the rather unprofessional attempt at “guilting” us because you want more than what you have voluntarily signed up for.

    Our services are valuable, and you are not the only client that would pay for them. In fact, perhaps we should evaluate our own sentimentality and revisit our rate structure, as it is likely that merely due to the length of the relationship, we have not increased our prices to you to reflect the ever-increasing value that you so consistently receive from this business venture.

  3. Pros Monkey July 26, 2019 10:53 am

    Anon @2: while I agree with your statements (or at least want to agree), the reality of IP law is that attorney services, outside of litigation, are largely viewed (rightly or wrongly) as a commodity. Thus clients are focused on getting more for less, which tends to lead to getting what is paid for – low quality. All of that is great until it comes time for litigation (the non-commodity), when the commodity maybe shouldn’t have been commodity in the first place.

  4. Gregory Grace July 26, 2019 2:56 pm

    Seems like what has happened is that the big corporations now have the upper hand in relationships as they have all the money and there is fierce competition to get their business. The in-house attorneys keep demanding more and more for less and less money and often try to add in emotional pets for themselves.

    It isn’t a great time to be a patent attorney.

  5. Benny July 26, 2019 3:02 pm

    If you are not satisfied with your law firm, you can tell them to get stuffed and find another. There are plenty. Never let them forget who is the service provider and who is the client paying the invoices.

  6. Nathan Rees July 26, 2019 4:00 pm

    Funny what people posting anonymously will say…

    It is lunch time on a Friday and I have been very productive so far. I have reviewed and finalized two office action responses, straightened out a foreign agent before an oral hearing, hammered out an examiner’s amendment for an important case to get an allowance, finished evaluations for summer associates, and have dilligently entered my time. Therefore, I’d like to step into the role of a relationship counselor for a few minutes.

    I have done work for three different clients today. Each of these I value greatly, but could also see running into similar issues as you have described because sometimes it is difficult even to just run through the motions. The following is what I have found to be most helpful in situations like the one you have described–

    A semi-annual portfolio meeting could go a long way to mend fences. This forces your counsel to review cases, contemplate priorites, actually look at the forest instead of just caring for each tree, and compile all issues for you to address in one convienient place. Your counsel wants (or should want) to gain more insight on what is causing you pain and where they should focus efforts. They may even surprise you with helpful statistics on competitors and insight from their experiences with other clients that will help you in your efforts.

    A presentation like this would often be done as a courtesy but it is very time consuming to prepare if done right… you may even contemplate allowing for a little budget to implement the event (knowing it will take much more time to prepare than the budget will allow)

    Hopefully in the end you will each leave with useful action items that never would have been contemplated in your current state. These will strengthen the assets and help the budget that you steward…and you may remember why you got together in the first place.

    I wish you luck. Relationships are hard, but we all need them to make our lives better.

    Sincerely,

    A self-declared relationship* expert

    *business relationships only, I make no representation as to my effectiveness in other forms of relationships.

  7. Pro Say July 26, 2019 4:37 pm

    You had me at hello.

  8. American Cowboy July 26, 2019 4:40 pm

    Benny alludes to the golden rule: He who has the gold makes the rules.

  9. Curious July 26, 2019 5:53 pm

    Sophisticated clients know what they want and how to get it. With them it is do what they want and just get out of their way.

    Unsophisticated clients need far more hand-holding. Some firms are better at hand-holding than others.

  10. Supernova89 July 26, 2019 6:25 pm

    Dear client:

    Do you really think it is going to get any better if you switch law firms? All law firms are under the same pressures. You want A+ service at C- level prices. You are lucky that we are even giving you B service.

    Go ahead and leave. Other clients pay us more and appreciate our efforts. But you will apparently never be satisfied until you have a firm that acts as if you are their only client (and the center of the universe) and does all of your work for free (or better, pays you for the generous opportunity to be so lucky as to get to work with you!)

    Also we haven’t been working with you for THAT long. Maybe it seems that way to you because you have a reputation of never being satisfied with outside counsel. Honestly we are shocked you haven’t found another firm yet.

    Bye Felicia.

  11. Pro Say July 26, 2019 8:37 pm

    Sophisticated vs. unsophisticated clients is an important distinction indeed Curious @ 9.

    Moreover, too much hand-holding (baby-sitting) may result in uncomfortable, even painful calluses on the hands of both parties.

    p.s. Congress — where are you with those critically-needed eligibility changes? Will we see a bill by Sept? Oct or Nov? Year’s end?

    America — and American innovation — need you now.

  12. Benny July 27, 2019 2:49 am

    American @8. We did quit a law firm a few years ago because of lack of transparency. We have an excellent relationship with our current firm because they are professional in their approach to clients, as in they don”t see their primary business as printing invoices. The client deserves value for money.

  13. Night Writer July 27, 2019 6:37 am

    Come on. Two of our big clients (big corporations) have dropped the price they are willing to pay for prosecution by 40% over the last three years and at the same time continue to demand more and more.

    Come on. The power is all with the client right now.

  14. jack July 27, 2019 11:39 am

    Long time ago I noticed that you dispose off comments from people outside of your circle. Anyway I must add my 3 cents.

    Dear Law firm. The draft of the utility patent application I received recently from you feels more like “Assisted Suicide Scenario” not real and serious piece of work. Of course I appreciate the time you spend writing 32 pages of detailed description describing various embodiment’s but you missed the core of my invention and frankly when we eliminate the endless repetitions describing same thing all over again in each of the embodiment’s we can shrink the number of pages to no more than 10. Reading your piece of literature I wonder if ever I am going be able convince anybody to go through all the pages since it is so hard to read and understand. If you employ recently hired junior associate recently out of law school I think you should take a look what he/she produced. Introducing new subject matter is not something any examiner will welcome. Have you noticed that your claims are so distilled that they are reading in previous well known art? You offer that you are going write new claims? But new claims are not going fix several other issues with your application I am discovering every time I am trying to get through the jungle of words. Regardless of how much I am paying you should at least have some pride in your work and check it out before sharing with me and not just assume that every independent inventor is an idiot who has no clue about at least some basics. What I should do? Seeing quality of your work I am scared of you. I do not own a bank to endlessly finance every aspect of my patent adventure. Seems that my only path forward is to be “Inventor Per Se”

    I am sure that most of you guys are doing good work but unfortunately I have very bad luck.

  15. Night Writer July 27, 2019 12:46 pm

    @6 Nathan Rees

    Be real. Nothing you stated as your productive morning sounds very difficult. What is difficult about prosecution is writing a good patent application in a short amount of time and responding to an Office Action in a short amount of time. Reviewing other people’s work is gravy. Everyone knows that. Try writing a set of claims that reads on the competitor’s product in a morning. Try making sure that you get about 50% of the applications allowed after only one response.

    The review work I do is easy. That is gravy work and everyone knows it. In fact, I’d go further and the fact you presenting it as something else probably means you are not a good person to work for.

  16. AAA JJ July 27, 2019 10:41 pm

    “Funny what people posting anonymously will say…”

    Why is it funny?

  17. Tesla18 July 27, 2019 11:31 pm

    Just some perspective for the fake client

    What other profession has to deal with this?

    Would anybody ever write even a “satirical” letter like this to their doctor or their accountant?

    Dear Doc: “ I am firing you because that colonoscopy did not ‘surprise and wow’ me”

    Dear CPA: “you have been doing a decent job on my taxes but when was the last time we had a ‘heart to heart’”

  18. Night Writer July 28, 2019 8:34 am

    @14 jack

    That is the funny things. Prosecution has become a commodity. Not sure why. I see a great variance in the work, but somehow great work is counted the same as average or below par work.

  19. AAA JJ July 28, 2019 12:19 pm

    “Prosecution has become a commodity.”

    True. I used to work for a big company. 20 years or so ago somebody had the brilliant idea of “Hey, we can send all this patent preparation and prosecution work to India and get the same quality at 1/10th the cost!!!!” and the company said, “Great!!!! Let’s do it!!!!!”

    If somebody in a meeting had said, “Hey, we can outsource all of our tax, real estate, and M&A work to India and get the same quality at 1/10th the cost!!!!” they would have been laughed out of the room.

    Why is that?

    IDK. Maybe it’s because patent attorneys are terrible advocates for themselves and their profession. No tax attorney, or real estate attorney, or M&A attorney would have taken such an assertion lying down. But a lot of patent attorneys did.

    While I was at this big company it was clear the work being done in India was complete garbage. But the company kept sending the work there. Why? It was cheap. Lots of people were giving themselves glowing self evaluations for all the wonderful “mentoring” and “managing” of the India operation they were doing. The “mentoring” and “managing” was also garbage, but who was going to point that out? The people giving themselves warm and fuzzy self evaluations? Not likely.

    There were folks in the India patent operation who had been there for 5, 10, or more years. Their work was barely 1st year associate on the bubble at a decent firm quality. But they were described as “really good.” They weren’t. But again, who was going to point that out?

    People play the cards they are dealt. My former colleagues were told, “Work with these folks in India. We are paying them peanuts.” They really didn’t have the option to go to the company and say, “This India experiment isn’t working. In fact, it’s an abject failure.” The company wouldn’t have listened. And the company probably would have just gotten rid of the truth tellers and kept the operation in India.

    So people did what they did.

    That’s about it.

  20. Night Writer July 29, 2019 7:23 am

    @19 AAA JJ

    Often I work with an in-house attorney that has about 1/5 the experience I do and they either have no ability or desire to review/evaluate my work or they want all work to look like what they do. The in-house attorneys tend to be universally bad at the big corporations.

    Another issue is illustrated by my review of one our big clients portfolios. I evaluated why the case was allowed. What I found was maybe about 1/3 of the time the case was allowed for no reason but laziness on the part of the examiner. The claims were often incomprehensible and the examiner just figured there is no way this will be enforced so why not allow it.

    The whole thing is nuts and getting weirder. There are also all these people that fabricate things that the application needs for litigation. They’ve never litigated. I have. The things they want added would never come up and would not help.

    From what I’ve seen in this business, the people that are good at BS’ing the clients usually come out on top.

  21. Benny July 30, 2019 9:38 am

    ” What I found was maybe about 1/3 of the time the case was allowed for no reason but laziness on the part of the examiner.”

    I have also found this to be case. It’s fun when it’s our application, but extremely frustrating when it’s our competitors junk. Personally I have no confidence in the system.

  22. AAA JJ July 31, 2019 10:52 am

    “The in-house attorneys tend to be universally bad at the big corporations.”

    I was in private practice for 13 years and in-house for the past 7 or so. I found a wide spectrum of abilities in both.

    “Often I work with an in-house attorney that has about 1/5 the experience I do and they either have no ability or desire to review/evaluate my work or they want all work to look like what they do. ”

    Part of good lawyering is educating your clients. Even those clients who are themselves lawyers. You should keep that in mind.

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