The hullabaloo over patents isn’t ending anytime soon. Last summer, Apple and Samsung duked it out in a California court, arguing over hardware issues for their smartphones. Samsung was forced to pay licensing fees. And HTC is caught in the fray too — ditto on licensing fees. And then before that, the tech giant Honeywell sued startup Nest for infringing on patents when creating its “smart” thermostat. And these are just the high-profile cases.
The patent landscape is only becoming muddier, while some companies use the documents to stifle innovation, and the patents themselves are getting more convoluted and vague, which makes those court battles even more complex. So Arizona-based patent lawyer Barbara Luther says she wants to strip down the process, simplifying both the patent application and the patent itself.
Her firm, The Luther Law Firm, peddles a service called Quick Start (which she recently rebranded from its old name, BareBones), that she says streamlines the process. Think of it as the Common App for Patent University. She says she can get the patent approved in (ideally) a year, though she’d eventually like to speed it up it to six months. What makes her service different is that she works with the entrepreneur or inventor to get their natural explanation of the invention on the patent, in plainspeak, instead of adapting it into something that sounds like legalese, she says. Luther, who used to practice law in Palo Alto for Morrison Foerster and worked as counsel for the company Incyte, claims this knocks off about half of the procedure time.
While some lawyers use the vague language as a tactic to protect the inventor – so as not to reveal too much to competitors – Luther says it behooves the patent filer to have a detailed description section, telling the audience what is new and important about the invention.
On the administrative side, this gives the examiner at the United States Patent and Trademark Office an easier time when working with the document and the inventor, which could only help to speed up the process. The only other things an inventor can do, she says, is pay an extra $2,000 to be put of the fast track, or be over 65-years-old. (Special provisions allow older inventors a shorter wait time because, well, unfinished business is always an existential tragedy isn’t it?)
But more importantly for a startup founder, she thinks she can turn the patent into something immediately useful. By putting the idea into clear terms, a founder can use it as evidence of an original idea when trying to create buzz around his or her company. In effect, Luther is set on turning the patent into another tool for entrepreneurs: a sales pitch document.
“How is someone who doesn’t have over 20 years of patent experience going to figure it out?” she says. “Those documents aren’t very helpful.”
With an accessibly written patent, a founder can be more effective in wooing possible investors, Luther says. This is useful when a patent just sits in the patent office unregistered for two to four years, the typical time it takes for a patent to go through the process.
Whether or not Luther’s tweaks to the process are effective for founders – or if some other lawyers take the same upfront, if lesser used, approach – it scores the point that the patent system is in bad need of reform, and individual lawyers can take the lead. The process must be cheaper and quicker, to cater to the high octane, sometimes popsicle stick-budget world of young tech companies. “Startups are really neglected by law firms,” says Luther. “We don’t have to make a big production out of everything.”
[Image Credit: The US National Archives on Flickr]