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Patented Inventors: Don't Lose Your Patent!

By Stephen Paul Gnass

When an inventor decides to work with a patent attorney, the patent attorney obtains a "power of attorney" which legally authorizes him to act on the inventors behalf for any filings, responses, actions, etc. related to the patent application. This is normal.

A good patent attorney not only keeps in touch with his clients periodically (written, and sometimes verbally), but also maintains correspondence with the U.S. Patent Office on behalf of his clients and sends his clients copies of all the correspondence.

However, in specific cases where the patent attorney may be incompetent, or where the patent attorney works directly with a scam company, this important aspect of acting as a liaison between the inventor and patent office is missing.

Because inventors have placed their full trust in the patent attorney or firm that is handling the patent application, they end up being "out of the loop".

This is the glitch in the patenting system that causes inventors to lose their patents without their knowledge or awareness. In our mobile society, it is common for people to frequently move from city to city, or even state to state.

But if the patent attorney fails to file the change of address with the U.S. patent office, then the patent office will continue sending the mail to the patent attorney of record, or to the old address.

If the patent office sends the inventor any notices of maintenance fees due, or important information regarding appeals that must be replied to by certain due dates, and does not receive a response, the patent can be lost. It's that easy. For the most part, the patent office goes by the book, no matter who's fault it was that caused the deadline to be missed.

What inventors need to be aware of is that the ultimate responsibility and accountability for filing the patent application lies with themselves. Anybody that the inventor is working with is a contractor that is working for him on his behalf. And it is up to the inventor to act as a "manager" of his own "crew". An inventor needs to periodically stay in touch with the patent attorney (or for that matter, any other vendor or contractor) to make sure that the patent attorney follows through with whatever needs to be done - including something simple like filing a change of address with the patent office.

I believe that inventors need to be familiar with the steps of filing a patent - not necessarily all the details - but at least the general timeline of steps and patent office fees. For example, once the initial patent application is sent, inventors should know that it costs about "X" dollars and takes "X" weeks or months to receive a reply. Inventors should know that it is common for most patent applications to be rejected at least once, and they should realize that it then takes "X" dollars and "X" time to resubmit it again and receive another reply. They should know that the whole process of getting a patent generally takes "X" months from start to finish, and takes "X" time and "X" dollars if it is more complicated.

In fact, we recommend that inventors learn the process of patenting an idea, if at all possible. There is an excellent book titled "Patent It Yourself" written by David Pressman, a patent attorney. I believe that the more an inventor understands about how it all works, the easier it will be to cooperate and work synergistically with the patent attorney so that the patent reflects and protects the inventor's idea. (To find out about the book, visit NCIO's Online Bookstore.

Bottomline, an astute inventor will appreciate a good patent attorney that stays in touch and keeps him abreast of all activities related to his patent, but will not just sit back and be passive. Instead, he will take the initiative to call or stay in touch with the patent attorney and will request copies of all patent office documentation to verify that the work has been done, instead of just relying on blind trust or what the patent attorney tells him.

In fact, any patent attorney that refuses to do this could be said to be "keeping the inventor in the dark" and there could be a possibility that the patent attorney is either incompetent or may even be working with a scam company.

On another note, make sure that you know how your patent attorney charges. Usually they bill in increments of 5, 10 or 15 minutes. Know the upsides and downsides of filing your patent application ahead of time so that everything is laid out on the table. You should be receiving paperwork automatically, but if you feel you need to call to follow-up, you need to know whether these status update calls will be billed or if they're included free with the fees you are paying.

So in recap:

1. When you initially establish a relationship with your patent attorney, be sure to know where the paperwork is going to be mailed - to you or to the patent attorney.

2. If you move, let the patent attorney know as well as the patent office.

3. If you are unable to stay in touch with the patent attorney directly, and have to go through a company to find out about the progress of your patent, this is a major tip-off that this company could possibly be an invention submission marketing scam company. Once the invention scam companies have the bulk of the inventor's money, they will not return phone calls to their clients, and the inventor will not know about any important filings or responses that are due.

If you have a specific problem or concern regarding a company that you're working with, don't hesitate to call or e-mail us with your questions. Please be sure to mention who you're working with and be very specific about your problem.
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