Engineer Turning Attorney?

A forum for applicants and admitted students to ask law students and graduates about law school and the practice of law.
AndrewAlvarez922
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Joined: Fri Apr 10, 2015 10:59 pm

Engineer Turning Attorney?

Postby AndrewAlvarez922 » Fri Apr 10, 2015 11:35 pm

Background:
My goal in college was to become a patent attorney so I became a Chemical and Biomolecular Engineer. While acquiring my degree I landed a pretty good gig at an oil company working offshore 2 weeks on 2 weeks off making 6 figures. Now I'm not sure if its worth it. Money wise patent attorneys make avg 220k a year (Salary.com) which is the same i would be making if i stayed in this industry (with debt from school and still making money).

Questions:
1. Do you actually enjoy your job?
2. Do you have any real engineering experience?
3. Are you specialized in the field of engineering that you studied/practiced?
4. Should I practice as a patent agent before going to law school to get my feet wet?
5. How much time do you spend on yourself, does your job consume you?

Thank you in advance for reading this post and your responses.

hurldes
Posts: 138
Joined: Wed Dec 01, 2010 3:32 pm

Re: Engineer Turning Attorney?

Postby hurldes » Sat Apr 11, 2015 12:42 am

1. Do you actually enjoy your job?
2. Do you have any real engineering experience?
3. Are you specialized in the field of engineering that you studied/practiced?
4. Should I practice as a patent agent before going to law school to get my feet wet?
5. How much time do you spend on yourself, does your job consume you?


1. Parts of it. About 30% of the time I like my job. The other 70% of the time I'm really wishing I never went to law school.
2. Unfortunately no. I really wish I'd at least tried out an engineering job.
3. Yes.
4. Definitely.
5. I'm in litigation and it takes more time than I'd like. I usually work 12 hours a day. But I still go to the gym a few days a week, and eat dinner with my wife most nights. I'd still do almost anything for a 9-5 job with little to no possibility of getting called in at night or on the weekend... I did not appreciate uninterrupted free time before I started biglaw. I hear prosecutors work a lot (10 hour days?) but they can go in early and be home early if they want. That doesn't seem too bad.

Aureusmons
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Joined: Tue Mar 05, 2013 6:29 am

Re: Engineer Turning Attorney?

Postby Aureusmons » Tue Apr 14, 2015 5:20 pm

Do NOT leave your job for patent law. Patent law is in a death spiral thanks to SCOTUS and Congress, and you'll be paying $200K in tuition + $300K or more in lost wages to attend law school.
Last edited by Aureusmons on Tue Apr 14, 2015 9:17 pm, edited 2 times in total.

swimmer11
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Joined: Thu Jul 05, 2012 1:54 pm

Re: Engineer Turning Attorney?

Postby swimmer11 » Tue Apr 14, 2015 5:28 pm

Aureusmons wrote:Do NOT leave your job for patent law. Patent law is in a death spiral thanks to SCOTUS and Congress, and you'll be paying $200K in tuition + $300K or more in lost wages to attend law school.


Just out of curiosity, why is this?

El Principe
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Joined: Mon Mar 11, 2013 3:10 am

Re: Engineer Turning Attorney?

Postby El Principe » Wed Apr 15, 2015 1:50 am

You're telling me you can essentially make the same amount of money working a (presumably) intellectually stimulating career where you're (again, presumably) valued for your contributions with better job security, work-life balance, and perks than most legal jobs, and you're thinking about going to law school???

I mean, this is all based on presumptions, but based on all of the engineers and lawyers I know + general intuition, I'll have to assume the above is true and tailor my advice with that in mind.

If some of those assumptions aren't true, then maybe, keyword maybe, you should consider law, but I don't see a demonstrated need to do so.

Freebot
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Re: Engineer Turning Attorney?

Postby Freebot » Tue May 19, 2015 12:23 am

El Principe wrote:You're telling me you can essentially make the same amount of money working a (presumably) intellectually stimulating career where you're (again, presumably) valued for your contributions with better job security, work-life balance, and perks than most legal jobs, and you're thinking about going to law school???

I mean, this is all based on presumptions, but based on all of the engineers and lawyers I know + general intuition, I'll have to assume the above is true and tailor my advice with that in mind.

If some of those assumptions aren't true, then maybe, keyword maybe, you should consider law, but I don't see a demonstrated need to do so.


I wouldn't expect working on an oil rig to be a utopia of job security (highly cyclical industry) or work-life balance (working weeks at a time in the middle of the ocean). Valued for your contributions? That could go a lot ways. Most engineers operate and/or maintain legacy systems, and corporate decision makers tend to view engineers in general as commodities. Don't have experience in a particular system that the company wants to migrate to? They could easily fire you and hire someone else with that particular skill instead of bothering to train you. Plenty of engineers with decades of experience see their careers suddenly die because they weren't in the right technology.

4lg2lb
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Joined: Thu Sep 06, 2012 10:21 am

Re: Engineer Turning Attorney?

Postby 4lg2lb » Tue May 19, 2015 1:48 am

AndrewAlvarez922 wrote:My goal in college was to become a patent attorney so I became a Chemical and Biomolecular Engineer.

Questions:
1. Do you actually enjoy your job?
2. Do you have any real engineering experience?
3. Are you specialized in the field of engineering that you studied/practiced?
4. Should I practice as a patent agent before going to law school to get my feet wet?
5. How much time do you spend on yourself, does your job consume you?

Thank you in advance for reading this post and your responses.


1. Yes - I joined a firm that does all aspects of patent law. Any given week I prosecute, litigate, and license patents.
2. Yes - I was an engineer for 3 years before returning to law school.
3. Yes - I was an EE and primarily work with electrical patents, although I work on a wide range of technologies.
4. No - with the caveat that you should study for and take the patent bar during your time off.
5. Myself? - very little. I work 10-14 hours a day M-F and usually 2-4 on Sunday. On my time off I focus on my family and try to do things they want to do. At a minimum, you certainly won't ever have 2 weeks off again. Once you work for a firm where you're making 220k you are very rarely "off" for that amount of time.

Sounds like you're making now what you could reasonably hope to make after law school. A ChemE bachelors degree isn't all that common/desirable for prosecution. As an anecdote, I had 2 friends in law school that were making 70k as mechanical engineers and now are making 75k with 100k in debt as patent lawyers. The biomedical degree may give you more options but I wouldn't throw away a sure thing for patent law. As others have mentioned, the pendulm is starting to swing against patent law. Alice is wreaking havoc right now. Courts are dismissing cases at the pleadings stage and the PTO (3600) is stonewalling a large portion of software and business method patents. Congress is considering several bills that may further curtail NPE suits, which represent a major portion of patent cases.

If you have your heart set on patent law, my recommendation is to get your registration number by studying for and taking the patent bar. Buy one of the self-study courses and see if memorizing mundane rules about filing deadlines is as engaging as working offshore. If you like reading the MPEP and you get your reg number, then you'll have a leg up on your classmates when you go to law school. If not, then you're only out a few hundred dollars.

If you only want to do patent litigation then your grades in law school will matter more than your background. You'll be in the same GPA fight as everyone else in your class (maybe with a slight advantage but probably not based on the less desirable engineering degree). One bad test as a 1L and you just forfeited your engineering job for the scraps of law school jobs.

I'd stay clear of law school unless you can go to an elite school. Even then, based on your current situation I'd make sure you have a generous scholarship. Sounds like you've done well for yourself up until now, so I'm sure whatever you decide you'll be successful. Just know what you're getting yourself into.

totesTheGoat
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Re: Engineer Turning Attorney?

Postby totesTheGoat » Tue Jun 16, 2015 6:33 pm

AndrewAlvarez922 wrote:Questions:
1. Do you actually enjoy your job?
2. Do you have any real engineering experience?
3. Are you specialized in the field of engineering that you studied/practiced?
4. Should I practice as a patent agent before going to law school to get my feet wet?
5. How much time do you spend on yourself, does your job consume you?


I'm still in law school, don't have my reg number yet, but work patent prosecution as my day job. I can't speak to everything (especially not litigation), but I'll give my experience.

1. I get to read inventions every day of the week. I didn't really enjoy engineering as much, because I'm not a "deep dive" kind of guy. I hated being the "premier expert" at some tiny little piece of technology, but I like having a general overview understanding of semiconductors or cell networks or whatever other tech area I get to work in. It can be boring (like now: I'm typing this during the work day... i'm taking a break because my brain hurts), but I personally found engineering to be 10x as boring. Be ready to be locked in an office all day, the only human interaction you get being the mail courier poking his head in for the 3pm mail run. It's not that you can't create the human interaction, but the partners that I work for are too busy to sit there and walk through things with me. It's a quick hit of 10 minutes here or 20 minutes there with them, and the occasional conversation with associates in the hallway.

2. I worked for 1.5 years at a mid-sized consumer electronics company while in UG, and worked for 3 years at a large telecom/computing company. I worked there for my 1E year of law school before switching to a law firm.

3. Yes and no. I don't do life sciences stuff, because I don't have a ChemE or Bio background, and the stuff is entirely too technical for me to pick up in a 6-10 hour billing window. To call it "specialized" is a bit strong, IMO. I have a ComputerE degree, so I work on everything from financial software to semiconductor fab procedures, and everything in between. I also work on "non-technical" stuff, like food science type patents. Usually, "non-technical" means "easy to understand at a first glance." Otherwise, they'll just find somebody who has experience to help out with that patent.

4. It's up to you. I know people who have gone both ways. I will say that you can pick up a ton of bad habits if you're practicing as a patent agent for a crappy firm. None of the more reputable firms that I've talked to care about whether or not you're registered while in law school. They're more than happy to pay for your patent bar prep course when they've hired you. OTOH, many people I know just get it out of the way one summer when they don't have a ton going on during school.

5. I've got the best of both worlds at this point. I work hard, make good money, and have a legitimate excuse to leave at 5pm every day. From my experience, you can expect 50-60 hours of work per week. Some firms are closer to 45, some closer to 60. I've had to go to the office on the weekend on occasion (once because a partner asked me on Friday to prep a provisional app for submission Monday morning, once because I botched a deadline due to school and work conflicting) and it's typically empty. I'll fairly regularly get an email from a partner at 11pm, but I've also had the same partner put me under time pressure because he had a social engagement at 5:30. It's not like you're constantly pressured to be there until 10pm.

Do NOT leave your job for patent law. Patent law is in a death spiral thanks to SCOTUS and Congress, and you'll be paying $200K in tuition + $300K or more in lost wages to attend law school.


Lulz... Alice has done nothing but double my workload. AIA makes it twice as hard to file a patent pro se. Patent Law ain't going nowhere!! :mrgreen:

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ExBiglawAssociate
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Re: Engineer Turning Attorney?

Postby ExBiglawAssociate » Tue Jun 16, 2015 8:57 pm

totesTheGoat wrote:Lulz... Alice has done nothing but double my workload. AIA makes it twice as hard to file a patent pro se. Patent Law ain't going nowhere!! :mrgreen:


Elaborate, please. My impression is that they have basically shut down entire art units in the PTO and won't allow any e-commerce patents anymore because of 101. My friends who are pros bros say all software-related patents are basically invalid at this point. Hard EE stuff should still be okay, but the most recent 112 decision (published today, I believe) just invalidated a shitton more patents based on a breathtaking expansion of which patents fall under 112(6).

collegebum1989
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Re: Engineer Turning Attorney?

Postby collegebum1989 » Tue Jun 16, 2015 9:30 pm

Biglaw_Associate_V20 wrote:
totesTheGoat wrote:Lulz... Alice has done nothing but double my workload. AIA makes it twice as hard to file a patent pro se. Patent Law ain't going nowhere!! :mrgreen:


Elaborate, please. My impression is that they have basically shut down entire art units in the PTO and won't allow any e-commerce patents anymore because of 101. My friends who are pros bros say all software-related patents are basically invalid at this point. Hard EE stuff should still be okay, but the most recent 112 decision (published today, I believe) just invalidated a shitton more patents based on a breathtaking expansion of which patents fall under 112(6).


Alice hasn't invalidated all software patents, but just the ones that appear to be similar to business methods such as software enabling financial transactions, or software automating human behavior (which rightfully shouldn't be patentable subject matter). The problem comes when the office issues rejections for actual software subject matter because they're "enforcing the new law," which from the Examiners I've spoken to and the Agents/Attorneys I've spoken with is the PTO's way to executing uncertain case law.

Why this doubles the workload of prosecutors? More Office Action responses, more RCE filings, and extended prosecution timelines toward allowability for large corporate clients can take the hit and pay more for getting their software patents allowed. Additionally, Alice doesn't necessarily impact software patent filings because clients that have the money and need the patents while file anyway. In fact, given the uncertain case law, this only incentivizes inventors to seek counsel when filing patent applications. I'm sure you can arguments for the other side too, but the point it is that the uncertainty is not necessarily negative but it largely depends on your firm's client portfolio.

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ExBiglawAssociate
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Re: Engineer Turning Attorney?

Postby ExBiglawAssociate » Tue Jun 16, 2015 9:44 pm

collegebum1989 wrote:
Biglaw_Associate_V20 wrote:
totesTheGoat wrote:Lulz... Alice has done nothing but double my workload. AIA makes it twice as hard to file a patent pro se. Patent Law ain't going nowhere!! :mrgreen:


Elaborate, please. My impression is that they have basically shut down entire art units in the PTO and won't allow any e-commerce patents anymore because of 101. My friends who are pros bros say all software-related patents are basically invalid at this point. Hard EE stuff should still be okay, but the most recent 112 decision (published today, I believe) just invalidated a shitton more patents based on a breathtaking expansion of which patents fall under 112(6).


Alice hasn't invalidated all software patents, but just the ones that appear to be similar to business methods such as software enabling financial transactions, or software automating human behavior (which rightfully shouldn't be patentable subject matter). The problem comes when the office issues rejections for actual software subject matter because they're "enforcing the new law," which from the Examiners I've spoken to and the Agents/Attorneys I've spoken with is the PTO's way to executing uncertain case law.

Why this doubles the workload of prosecutors? More Office Action responses, more RCE filings, and extended prosecution timelines toward allowability for large corporate clients can take the hit and pay more for getting their software patents allowed. Additionally, Alice doesn't necessarily impact software patent filings because clients that have the money and need the patents while file anyway. In fact, given the uncertain case law, this only incentivizes inventors to seek counsel when filing patent applications. I'm sure you can arguments for the other side too, but the point it is that the uncertainty is not necessarily negative but it largely depends on your firm's client portfolio.


Sooner or later, clients are going to start saying, "we're paying how much for what!??" The law is only moving in one direction. It doesn't make sense to spend the same amount of money (or more) for a fraction of the value you were getting before.

collegebum1989
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Joined: Sat Jan 07, 2012 8:03 pm

Re: Engineer Turning Attorney?

Postby collegebum1989 » Tue Jun 16, 2015 9:51 pm

AndrewAlvarez922 wrote:Background:
My goal in college was to become a patent attorney so I became a Chemical and Biomolecular Engineer. While acquiring my degree I landed a pretty good gig at an oil company working offshore 2 weeks on 2 weeks off making 6 figures. Now I'm not sure if its worth it. Money wise patent attorneys make avg 220k a year (Salary.com) which is the same i would be making if i stayed in this industry (with debt from school and still making money).

Questions:
1. Do you actually enjoy your job?
2. Do you have any real engineering experience?
3. Are you specialized in the field of engineering that you studied/practiced?
4. Should I practice as a patent agent before going to law school to get my feet wet?
5. How much time do you spend on yourself, does your job consume you?

Thank you in advance for reading this post and your responses.



I'll take a bite. I actually have a Biomedical Engineering degree so I can tailor my feedback towards that.

1. I do enjoy it very much, but I wouldn't say I have the most traditional Patent Prosecution experience. In my position, I get to work on all aspects of patent prosecution, from preparation of patent applications, prosecution in the USPTO, and post-grant petitions such as IPRs and CBMs recently instituted by the AIA to seek review of patents for invalidity. Overall, I'd say variety is the strongest feature of my job. Given the variety in my docket, I never actually get bored at what I do. I do, however, enjoy reading, and especially reading about technology and constantly thinking at a conceptual level.

2. Sort of, but not really. Before my current job and beginning law school, I did an engineering research fellowship and worked as a Software Engineering Consultant, where I worked on some development projects (but more on the front-end IT side, less on the back-end technical side).

3. Not even in the least bit. While the technology area you focus on depends largely on your firm and your geographic location, a lot of the work in Patent Law is currently focused on software and EE-related fields. It's partially because patent law trails technology by a couple of years and as a result, a lot of the patents currently being invalidated, litigated, and even prosecuted are patents for technology developed and expanded upon in the early 2000's. However, there is also certainly a lot of applications being filed nowadays that focuses more on various fields. My degrees are in Biomedical Engineering, but I write patents mostly directed towards software.

4. You can, and you should especially if you want to be a prosecutor after law school. I'm certainly biased because that's what I'm doing at the moment (Patent Agent full-time, law student part-time), but this route has numerous advantages and disadvantages. The most major advantage is that you get actual experience and know what you're getting yourself into before you embark into law school on a mere presumption of patent law. The second advantage is that if you're serious about patent prosecution, you'll need to be efficient. Law firm life is all about being efficient, both in terms of your time management and in terms of your ability to handle multiple tasks. Patent prosecution creates the added stress that a lot of work is fixed-fee, which means your firm gets paid the same amount regardless of how much you bill. This means that you need to get good at writing extensive patent applications within specific periods of time or else your work will not be profitable. Working as an Agent before and during law school helps you master these skills because you have a much lower billing rate than an attorney and can spend more time doing things. Therefore, when you start as an Associate, you'll already know the ins-and-outs and can focus more on building your practice and/or beginning to supervise work instead of learning how to draft a patent application.

The disadvantage, however, is that if you're interested in litigation, you'll need to perform just as well as every other law student and go to just as prestigious of a law school to have a shot at actually making market. If you're at a T25, you'll need to be top 1/3 of your class, and anything below, you'll need to be at least top 20% of your class. Working full-time, especially at a law firm practicing patent law, makes this difficult since you're likely curved against classmates that have no full-time jobs and focus their attention solely on students. You also get pidgeon-holed into prosecution at the same firm if you stay there too long while in law school because with your experience, you may be more profitable to them as a prosecutor than as a litigator.

5. During the semester, my life is consumed by law school and my job. There's not really much more that I do other than the two because I need to meet my billable requirements, finish my law school assignments, and do all the extra work required for both. Now that I'm on summer break, my life is a bit more flexible but it's still primarily consumed by work. You're expected to work a lot at any law firm, but some are more predictable than others. If you're in a prosecution-only type position, I'd say you can reasonably predict and forecast your workload and plan accordingly. However, sometimes it's not that you have to work a lot of hours, but that at a law firm, lives revolve around your work. With filing deadlines, client and partner demands and expectations, it's easy to have this control your life in off-work hours even when you're not actually working.


Feel free to PM if you have more specific BME-related questions.

collegebum1989
Posts: 323
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Re: Engineer Turning Attorney?

Postby collegebum1989 » Tue Jun 16, 2015 10:04 pm

Biglaw_Associate_V20 wrote:
collegebum1989 wrote:
Biglaw_Associate_V20 wrote:
totesTheGoat wrote:Lulz... Alice has done nothing but double my workload. AIA makes it twice as hard to file a patent pro se. Patent Law ain't going nowhere!! :mrgreen:


Elaborate, please. My impression is that they have basically shut down entire art units in the PTO and won't allow any e-commerce patents anymore because of 101. My friends who are pros bros say all software-related patents are basically invalid at this point. Hard EE stuff should still be okay, but the most recent 112 decision (published today, I believe) just invalidated a shitton more patents based on a breathtaking expansion of which patents fall under 112(6).


Alice hasn't invalidated all software patents, but just the ones that appear to be similar to business methods such as software enabling financial transactions, or software automating human behavior (which rightfully shouldn't be patentable subject matter). The problem comes when the office issues rejections for actual software subject matter because they're "enforcing the new law," which from the Examiners I've spoken to and the Agents/Attorneys I've spoken with is the PTO's way to executing uncertain case law.

Why this doubles the workload of prosecutors? More Office Action responses, more RCE filings, and extended prosecution timelines toward allowability for large corporate clients can take the hit and pay more for getting their software patents allowed. Additionally, Alice doesn't necessarily impact software patent filings because clients that have the money and need the patents while file anyway. In fact, given the uncertain case law, this only incentivizes inventors to seek counsel when filing patent applications. I'm sure you can arguments for the other side too, but the point it is that the uncertainty is not necessarily negative but it largely depends on your firm's client portfolio.


Sooner or later, clients are going to start saying, "we're paying how much for what!??" The law is only moving in one direction. It doesn't make sense to spend the same amount of money (or more) for a fraction of the value you were getting before.


You're right, but this also depends on the particular clients. For example, corporate clients that have stable filings (e.g., Samsung, Google) won't stop filing patents, they'll just adjust the amount they pay your per patent. Although this has lead to a significant reduction in budgets for patent prosecution, firms have handled them in different ways - some hire more Agents to do the actual drafting, and have the Attorneys review and sign-off, and others have reduced their prosecution budgets overall.

For startup clients, the business value/significance is drastically different than for a corporate client. For example, startups generally file to develop an IP portfolio for licensing/acquisition, or to generate interest from investors. While Alice may impact the requirements for a patent, I can't imagine how it will reduce startups from filing because a) most startup inventors aren't even familiar with the status of the law, and b) startups will file because business advisors or investors recommend they do so (creating other alternative incentives for filing other than seeking patent protection).

The status of the law aside, many aspects of patent prosecution are complementary. If the number of filings increase, the amount of prosecution also decreases. Likewise, with Alice, if the requirements become stricter to disincentivize patent filings, then prosecution of already filed or recently filed application increases. The same phenomenon occurs more generally with patent litigation and patent prosecution.

Ultimately, the more significant impact, in my opinion, won't necessarily be the status of the law (although it very well may be) but the way that firms conduct business. This will be drastically different for a GP firm compared to a boutique firm.

totesTheGoat
Posts: 509
Joined: Fri Aug 01, 2014 1:32 pm

Re: Engineer Turning Attorney?

Postby totesTheGoat » Wed Jun 17, 2015 12:27 am

Biglaw_Associate_V20 wrote:
totesTheGoat wrote:Lulz... Alice has done nothing but double my workload. AIA makes it twice as hard to file a patent pro se. Patent Law ain't going nowhere!! :mrgreen:


Elaborate, please. My impression is that they have basically shut down entire art units in the PTO and won't allow any e-commerce patents anymore because of 101. My friends who are pros bros say all software-related patents are basically invalid at this point. Hard EE stuff should still be okay, but the most recent 112 decision (published today, I believe) just invalidated a shitton more patents based on a breathtaking expansion of which patents fall under 112(6).


I haven't read the 112 decision, but it wouldn't shock me if they went all stupid on 112(6). If 112(6) is the hill that the court wants to die on, then so be it. It's relatively easy to write around (even if they stretch the definition of means-plus-function) unless you have a crappy specification in the first place. Regarding Alice, it doesn't knock out all software. I've gotten software patents through in 2600 art units over 101 rejections multiple times. The strategy in 3600 is stall like hell until something changes. Most of the financial clients (the ones being hit hardest by this) have been (begrudgingly) extending to the 6-month deadlines, then having us write some boilerplate responses in order to get another few months to wait on some sign of life from 3600. However, most my clients fall into 2600 art units, so I've had a field day with the Examiners who use Alice 101 rejections on non-financial software. The USPTO has published some guidelines and examples that make arguing 2600 applications easier.

Sooner or later, clients are going to start saying, "we're paying how much for what!??" The law is only moving in one direction. It doesn't make sense to spend the same amount of money (or more) for a fraction of the value you were getting before.


It's been there for a long time. I get work from partners all the time because there's no way they'll be able to do the work before they hit their billing limit. Even as a lowly intern, I've been held to fairly strict time limitations for certain clients. Anything more than 8-10 hours on an Office Action, and the firm is red-lining some of my billing. For somebody who has only been doing this for a year, without a reg number, and with school every evening, it's hard to keep it under the hours. However, the clients insist. They're going to get a good deal, or they'll go to the next guy down the street who offers them a cheaper rate.

Regarding value: Many big clients try to make up for quality with quantity. Sure, the shift in the law may mean they have more duds in their portfolio, but they're going to file 15 continuations for each drafted specification, and they'll end up with at least one patent that won't be invalidated in court. The smaller guys just insist on looking over your shoulder every step of the way.

EDIT: I just did a quick skim of the Citrix case. I don't think that's an earth shattering decision, but it may end up changing the way we have to write some claims to avoid 112(6). It's not another Alice, but we'll have to wait to see the impact at the USPTO.




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