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Finders Keepers

Not sure how to choose the right patent attorney? Here's where to look and what to look for.

One of the hardest tasks you'll face as a first-time inventor is finding the right attorney to file your patent. I know, because I unsuccessfully hired several attorneys before finally finding one that was right for me. The reason it's so tough is that attorneys who practice patent law are highly specialized and hard to find. To add to the confusion, many attorneys claim to have knowledge of patent law but lack actual experience. If you don't know what to look for in a patent attorney, you could be playing Russian roulette with your idea.

You should first understand what's required to be a true patent attorney. A patent attorney must not only have a law degree, but also an undergraduate degree in a technical field, such as computer science or engineering, that has been approved by the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO). A licensed patent attorney must also pass a rigorous test administered by the PTO. Once the attorney has passed the test, he or she is given a PTO registration number and is licensed to practice before the PTO in patent cases. Individuals without law degrees, but with an undergraduate degree in one of the approved PTO technical fields, may take the test. Once they pass the test, they're known as patent agents and may also submit patent applications to the PTO. However, a patent agent is not allowed to engage in litigation or render any kind of legal advice.

For a listing of all PTO-approved patent attorneys and patent agents, go to the PTO Web site at http://www.uspto.govand look under "General Information." You can search for attorneys and agents by geographic location as well as by name in the agent and attorney roster. Another option is to search for patent attorneys at http://lawyers. martindale.com/marhub. This Web site not only outlines lawyers' basic qualifications and contact information, but also provides their resumes.

If you're looking for someone to file only copyright and trademark applications, you should know that the PTO does not require attorneys doing these filings to be registered. But be careful: This doesn't mean just any attorney can perform this function. As with most legal work, you should look for an attorney experienced in this aspect of the law to do the work for you.


Tomima Edmark, the woman famous for her Topsy Tail invention has now turned her creative talents to the competitive retail arena of intimate apparel, HerRoom and HisRoom.

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This article was originally published in the July 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Finders Keepers.

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