You have already taken a step in the right direction by knowing that you need to protect your invention, brand or other original works with a patent, trademark, or copyright, respectively. But, what are the most cost effective, efficient and proactive steps to take when the time comes to protect your intellectual property? Over the last decade or so, a variety of online legal services have popped up, promoting themselves as easy-to-use and inexpensive when compared to a typical intellectual property attorney.
One of the most common and highly promoted online entities is LegalZoom. It purports that the party seeking protection, typically the owner of the intellectual property, may easily download the necessary paperwork based upon the menu items or checklist items selected within its website. LegalZoom advertises a base starting price of $99 that increases with nearly each selection you make on the website. Your documents are not reviewed by an attorney and you are responsible for completing and filing the items on your own.
With that low of an entry price point, it can be very tempting to “do it yourself” (DIY) instead of hiring a professional intellectual property attorney. As you may suspect – BUYER BEWARE! Costs can and often do increase wildly during the filing process – and there’s no one to help you guarantee that you’re filing the right forms, filling them out correctly, or even meeting the basic requirements of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office or U.S. Copyright Office. Accordingly, we’ve put together three key things to consider before moving forward with a DIY approach to intellectual property protection.
Researching Trademark and Patent Needs
It can take hours to fully research which materials you need based upon the property you are trying to protect. This type of process is not typical for people outside of the legal profession, and although some websites will provide you with the documents they feel you need, the system is not foolproof. One key consideration when comparing LegalZoom vs. a lawyer is that an intellectual property attorney will know exactly what steps need to be completed for your specific situation, no matter how simple or complex.
It is important to note that the “complexities” do not lie solely in filling out the paperwork or checking the correct boxes on the LegalZoom website. Trademarks, for example, should broadly and accurately cover the goods and services that a company currently makes or plans to make within the next five years. Too often, trademark applications are prepared with a narrow or inaccurate scope regarding the goods and services of the company. This may result in less than intended coverage, which in turn may require that additional trademark applications be filed. Or worse, it may leave the door open for a competitor to usurp your mark for goods and services that should have been covered in your trademark application.
As for patent applications, it may seem like straightforward process to write up a description of your invention, add a few images to support your description, and file it using LegalZoom. However, the chance of a DIY patent application making it through the examination phase at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is virtually zero. On the off chance that the examination process is navigated successfully, the odds of that DIY patent actually becoming a valuable, enforceable asset are even closer to zero. Patents are documents that live for 20 years, they must be addressed to a variety of audiences, they must be written for a person of ordinary skill in the art, which is legalese that a DIY software program cannot explain, they must flow from general to specific, they should not contain absolute terms or non-working examples that could invalidate the patent, and they must include well drafted patent claims.
Patent claims are the heart and soul of a patent application. They provide the legal boundaries that define your invention, which means, if properly drafted, they provide a protected space that keeps competitors from designing around your invention.
Filing the Correct Paperwork
After you have found the documents you think you need to file, you now need to complete the proper paperwork. Each document needs to be completed correctly, and will be closely scrutinized upon receipt by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office or US. Copyright Office. If there is ANY discrepancy, your request will be denied – often without any opportunity to remedy the alleged defects. If you are still so inclined, you will then need to repeat the process, including obtaining and completing the proper paperwork and paying more fees. An experienced intellectual property lawyer will guide you through the entire process, handle all the necessary paperwork and communication with the respective Office, and help you obtain strong and broad coverage for your intellectual property.
Potential Intellectual Property Liability in the Future
Assuming that you overcome the odds to have your patent or trademark application filed, examined and approved, the work is still not finished. A competitor may move to cancel your trademark or invalidate your patent, among many other tactics. At that time, having the correct items and a legal professional who knows your business is more critical than ever. In these stressful circumstances, it is much more beneficial to have an IP attorney who understands your business and product fully and one who can assist you from the beginning to avoid many potential pitfalls down the road. When considering a DIY entity such as LegalZoom, you should be extremely careful not to be taken in by the attractive entry costs because, in the end, you always get what you pay for. Your IP attorney will be able to counsel you about and through the process all while ensuring you are set up to succeed.
Although it may seem like a substantial cost savings in the beginning, your business and its intellectual property assets are too important to rely on the lowest bidder. If you’re considering LegalZoom vs. a lawyer, contact our attorneys now and we will provide you with an initial consultation to help you understand the importance of strong IP assets and how we can help your business be successful from its early beginnings to many years of successful growth.
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