How To Start A Boston Patent Law Practice

Advice for new Boston patent lawyers.

I try to help everybody who contacts me. Lots of patent lawyers ask for my advice when starting their own practice. Here’s what I tell them.

1. Quit your day job. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, success is 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration. In order to succeed as an entrepreneur, you have to commit to it 100%.

2. Network.

Join the National Association of Patent Practitioners (NAPP) (http://www.napp.org/). NAPP is like a bar association for patent agents and solo/small patent attorneys. NAPP’s mailing list is a good forum for Q&A for new patent practitioners. NAPP can also help you get (and was formed to provide) malpractice insurance.

Join the Business Lawyers Network (BLN) (http://www.lexpertise.com/), started by my friend Roger Glovsky (http://www.indigoventure.com/attorneys/rglovsky.html). The BLN offers lots of good interaction with business-focused lawyers in Greater Boston and Metro West.

Contact Arlington patent attorney Tom O’Connell (http://www.oconnellusa.com/) about his informal “patent lunch” list. A bunch of Boston-area patent agents and attorneys meet for lunch the first Tuesday of each month. I try to go at least once per year, I went much more when I was starting my firm.

3. Read. Read books about building a law firm and practicing patent law. Ask others for books they recommend. These are relevant to my practice because we have a lot of software patent clients.

“How To Start And Build A Law Practice” by Jay Foonberg
This book is a bit dated but still has lots of valuable advice for new lawyers.
http://apps.americanbar.org/abastore/index.cfm?section=main&fm=Product.AddToCart&pid=5110508
http://www.amazon.com/How-Start-Build-Law-Practice/dp/1590312473

“Patent It Yourself” by David Pressman
I don’t agree with all of Pressman’s advice but there is no better plain-English reference to patent law than this one. Every inventor should have a copy of “Patent It Yourself.” If you have the time but not the money, this book can help you write and file your own patent application. Plus it explains patent law in plain English.
http://www.nolo.com/products/patent-it-yourself-PAT.html
http://www.amazon.com/Patent-Yourself-Step-Step-Filing/dp/1413310583

“Electronic and Software Patents: Law and Practice” by Steven Lundberg and Stephen Durant
http://www.bna.com/electronic-software-patents-p11919/
http://www.amazon.com/Electronic-Software-Patents-Practice-Second/dp/1570185077/

“Patent Prosecution: Law, Practice, and Procedure” by Irah H. Donner
http://www.bna.com/patent-prosecution-law-p11826/
http://www.amazon.com/Patent-Prosecution-Practice-Procedure-Before/dp/1570181888/

“Landis on Mechanics of Patent Claim Drafting” by Robert C. Faber
http://www.pli.edu/Content/Treatise/Faber_on_Mechanics_of_Patent_Claim_Drafting_/_/N-4lZ1z13igc?ID=44990
http://www.amazon.com/Mechanics-Drafting-Practising-Institute-ebook/dp/B0028TXR6U/

“How to Write a Patent Application” by Jeffrey G. Sheldon
http://www.pli.edu/Content/Treatise/How_to_Write_a_Patent_Application/_/N-4lZ1z13ibt?ID=55632
http://www.amazon.com/Write-Patent-Application-Jeffrey-Sheldon/dp/0872240444/

Check for used books at the usual locations (http://www.amazon.com/) (http://www.bn.com/) (http://www.ebay.com/). For practice books, be sure to get the most recent editions. Patent law has changed more in the last 10 years than in the previous 30 years.

4. Get plants. Because some days you are going to need a reason to go to the office. Most startups fail. But those that succeed are the ones that persevere through the tough times. As my mentor once said, success is not so much a matter of being at the right place at the right time as it is a matter of being. Just keep plugging. Go to the office. Water the plants. Grow your business.


Erik J. Heels is an MIT engineer; trademark, domain name, and patent lawyer; Red Sox fan; and music lover. He blogs about technology, law, baseball, and rock ‘n’ roll at ErikJHeels.com.

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  1. Erik J. Heels says...

    Here’s some additional advice that I recently gave to a law student of mine:

    You’re going to have to sell yourself into whatever job you land, whether you start off on your own or join a firm.

    The above article includes much of I wish I’d known before starting my practice.

    I wouldn’t worry so much about not fitting the traditional mold. In life, there is no standard path. Each of us has a unique path. Use your unique path to tell your story, to sell yourself.

    For example, when I left law school to start working in marketing jobs for Internet companies, I had to explain how a lawyer could do marketing. I explained that selling a story to a jury is like selling a product to a customer. I got the job.

    Years later, when I started my law firm after six years out of the practice of law, I had to convince clients to hire me. I told them that my real-world experience gave me a unique perspective on how IP operated in the real world, and they probably would want someone who understood their startup experience. 12+ years later, this is still essentially my marketing pitch.

    I also think you can do lots of flavors of patents (including mechanical, software, and business method) without any specific degree. My first associate was a civil engineer and wrote mostly software patents.

    Hope it helps.