Patent attorneys in Arkansas find research is key.
"There are a number of patent lawyers here that I think are very capable, and whenever we have a conflict of interest in a case, we have no problem whatsoever sending them to another local patent firm," said Gary Speed, founder of Speed Law Firm of Little Rock, which practices patent, copyright and trademark law.
The website for the U.S. Patent & Trademark office lists 38 active patent lawyers in the state. By contrast, the Arkansas Judiciary website lists more than 3,100 attorneys just in Little Rock and North Little Rock.
In addition to passing the state bar examination, patent attorneys must pass the federal patent bar exam, which proves that they have the background necessary to draft patents.
Much of the patent work in Arkansas is related to the research being done within the University of Arkansas system, including the Fayetteville and Little Rock campuses, as well as the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, said Charles Dougherty, partner with Wright Lindsey & Jennings LLP of Little Rock. That work is reflected in 22 patents awarded so far in 2010 and assigned to UA, UAMS and Arkansas State University.(See list, Page 21.)
Several Arkansas patent attorneys told Arkansas Business that their caseloads were made up largely of work for campus research and businesses, as opposed to the shade-tree Edison who builds a better mousetrap and earns an early retirement from it. Several said they couldn't get specific about the patents they were currently working on because of confidentiality agreements.
"Generally, technology is more and more becoming the core of small businesses, and the people who really make money off a patent are building a business around it," Speed said. "A lot of times it deals with industrial processes or things that aren't too sexy to talk about or to look at, but it's the way people make their money in running their business."
As far as recent patent trends, nanotechnology is one of the major emerging fields, both in Arkansas and around the world, said David Pieper, principal of Keisling & Pieper PLC, a Fayetteville firm.
Both Keisling & Pieper and Wright Lindsey & Jennings have represented the UA system, which has a nanotechnology center in Little Rock. Speed, who specializes in patent, trademark and copyright litigation, represents another side to the practice and has litigated against the UA--and other large organizations--often on behalf of individual inventors. However, his partner in the firm, Kyla Aycock, does handle patent applications.
Because hunting and fishing are such big draws in the state, a number of the patented products originating from Arkansas have to do with those outdoors activities, said Blake Glasgow, a patent attorney with the Wright firm. Many of these patent holders aren't full-time inventors; they're just people who found a better way to do something.
They "experience some type of frustration with the way something works, and they say, It would be a lot easier if ...' and what comes after the 'if is the invention," Glasgow said.
Of course, not everyone who comes up with a unique process or solution to a problem seeks a patent for it, Pieper said.
"When a farmer does something and figures out how to fix something, he doesn't usually start a business to go and try to profit from it. He usually moves on to the project that he's working on," Pieper said.
But some do, and several have come to Pieper's firm for guidance.
"We've got patents on everything from rock cutters to methods for reworking hay bales from round bales into square bales," he said.
Keisling & Pieper has also secured patents for such dissimilar items as candles, automotive parts, product display methods and stilts. One of the firm's clients is Marshalltown Co., an Iowa construction supply company that also has a facility in Fayetteville, and makes, among other products, drywall stilts, Pieper said.
As for Wright Lindsey & Jennings, "the tinkerer in the garage is a small part of what we do," Dougherty said. "Most of our clients are businesses or universities. But within that realm, though, we represent a pretty diverse group, everything from the startup company that's out there looking for their first hit of angel funding all the way to Fortune 500 companies."
Most of Speed's clients are businesses too.
"As far as the small inventor clients that have the latest and greatest duck call or toilet seat or whatever, those clients generally aren't our long-term clients," Speed said.
So what does a patent attorney do?
"Basically we prepare, file and prosecute applications with the United States Patent & Trademark Office," Pieper said.
But that isn't necessarily as simple as it might sound.
"A patent application is a complex document to draft," Dougherty said. "It's not a form. My practice includes trademark and copyright prosecution as well, and those are pretty easy. Those are sort of fill-in-the-blank things. But with patents, you start with a blank sheet of paper."
It helps to think about the patent process as a deal with the government, Dougherty said.
"They give you a monopoly, effectively: exclusive right for a certain period of time," he said. "But your part of that bargain is you've got to fully disclose the invention so that it's out there for everyone to use and to read and to improve upon. And you do that through the form of the patent application, so that document's got to be complete or you end up with a patent that's not going to be enforceable."
But before any of that gets under way, a good deal of research must take place.
"We have to figure out, first of all, what are you entitled to claim, based on what we know that's already out there--what patent attorneys call the prior art," Dougherty said.
"Then we have to try to draft the best claim we can to claim as much of that ground as possible within the limitations defined by the prior art. You don't want to go too far because then your claims won't be valid, but you want to get as far as you can in order to get the broadest possible patent. That's a lot of the art of what we do is dealing with how we draft claims and amend claims during the process."
Because they need a deep understanding of the process involved in a patented product, patent attorneys must sit for the patent bar exam, which is administered by the patent office at locations around the country, in addition to the state bar exam, to prove their technical mettle and be allowed to practice before the Patent & Trademark Office, Glasgow said.
Usually this calls for an undergraduate degree in one of the hard sciences. Glasgow, for instance, has an undergraduate degree in biology and a master's degree in physiology and biophysics. His specialty is biological, chemical and pharmaceutical patents.
However, a degree isn't always necessary. An attorney can still qualify to take the patent bar exam if he or she has enough science-related credit hours earned at an accredited college.
Attorneys whose undergraduate degrees are not in one of the sciences but who have practical experience in engineering or physics can qualify to take the patent bar exam by passing the Fundamentals of Engineering test, which is administered by the State Board of Engineering Examiners in each state.
Besides litigating infringement cases and drafting and submitting applications, patent attorneys also give their clients good, old-fashioned counsel, which occasionally involves a letdown.
Sometimes, would-be inventors come up with a product idea that isn't patentable or one that doesn't require a patent, Speed said.
"A lot of times, people will call and say they need a patent and what they really need is a trademark or copyright," he said. "Everyone has their big idea that they think will enable them to retire and to be wealthy. Part of our process in dealing with clients is basically to educate them about what the copyright, patent and trademark laws protect and how to best pursue their dream."
What Pieper's firm generally advises most potential patent applicants "is to take a look at what is the market for the device and what's the advantage that you hope to gain by getting a patent in terms of the breadth of the monopoly," he said.
Sometimes an idea might be patentable, but obtaining the patent might be more trouble than it's worth, Glasgow said.
"Is this going to be obsolete? Is this something you would be better off making and producing yourself without patent protection and making your money while you can?" he said. "That also comes up with individual inventors that may not have the resources to get in there and fight and be able make their product at as low a cost as a bigger manufacturer."
RELATED ARTICLE: Time, Money Big Factors in Decision to Pursue Patent
ONE ISSUE FACING ANYONE SEEKING A patent in the United States is the backlog at the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, said David Pieper, patent attorney and principal of Keisling & Pieper PLC.
Depending on the type of patent one is seeking, the wait can be anywhere from two and a half years to five years, he said.
"Your patent rights begin when your patent gets issued, and then your rights continue until 20 years from the date it was filed. So if there's a big delay from the time it's filed until it issues, that cuts into the length of the monopoly that's granted," he said.
The cost of obtaining a patent "can really vary a lot," said Charles Dougherty, a patent attorney and partner with Wright Lindsey & Jennings LLP. "For a simple invention, start to finish, getting it filed, you may easily be able to do it for $5,000, or even less. But for something more complex--especially when you're talking biotechnology or some of the more complex software-related inventions--it's going to be much higher than that. It's just a matter of the time involved in it."
Though there is a good deal of effort being made in the patent office right now to shorten the timeline, the wait is still long "and it's going to take a lot of work to get it down," Dougherty said.
The patent office backlog "does have a dramatic impact on folks," he said, "because having that patent in hand is something that is very important to inventors, especially when your client is a startup business, and they're trying to raise capital and they really need that process to move as quickly as it possibly can.
"It does a disservice to them, and it's incredibly frustrating, the time--that long wait that you go through," he said. "Of course, they can say 'patent pending' during all that time, but they don't have enforceable right."
Arkansas Patents Patents issued to Arkansas inventors since Jan. 1, 2010 Description of Invention Inventor(s), Assignee, Hometown Location Scroll compressor with Gregory Hahn, Scroll back pressure cavity for Arkadelphia Technologies, assisting in start up Arkadelphia Molecular determinants of John D. 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Wayne Crolley, AT&T providing advertisements Bryant Intellectual to vehicles Jeffrey Paul Johnson, Property I LP, Austin, TX Reno, NV Method and apparatus for Robert Friedman, Virlite combining transponders on Fayetteville Communication multiple satellites into LLC, Wilmington virtual channels Non-compressed coaxial Glen David Shaw, DS Engineering cable F-connector with Conway LLC, North tactile surfaces Little Rock Compressed coaxial cable Glen David Shaw, DS Engineering F-connector with tactile Conway LLC, North surfaces Little Rock Ringed compressed coaxial Glen David Shaw, DS Engineering cable F-connector Conway LLC, North Little Rock Ringed compressed coaxial Glen David Shaw, DS Engineering cable F-connector with Conway LLC, North tactile surfaces Little Rock Ringed non-compressed Glen David Shaw, DS Engineering coaxial cable F-connector Conway LLC, North with tactile surfaces Little Rock Method and manufacture, Joel Donnenwirth, Garlock Rubber refurbishment and repair Paragould Technologies, of non-moldable Paragould polyurethane/polyurea conveyor belt covers and related products Weight free tire balancing Perry Cude, system Leachville Ringed, non-compressed Glen David Shaw, DS Engineering coaxial cable F-connector Conway LLC, North Little Rock Lock system for Richard Godin, immobilizing transported Gentry vehicle Donnie Bunker, Siloam Springs Gene expression profiling Alessandro Santin, University of of uterineserous papillary Little Rock Arkansas Board carcinomas and ovarian of Trustees, serous papillary tumors Little Rock Tennis ball recharging William Dirst, apparatus method Harrison Soybean variety Michael Uphoff, Monsanto Marion Technology LLC, St. Louis Arm chair Gregory Martin, Innovative Mountain Home Library Concepts Dan Fragoules, Inc., Mountain Mountain Home Home Concealment mantle clock Billy Pennington, Little Rock Grape plant named John Reuben Clark, University of 'A-2640' Fayetteville Arkansas Board James Norman Moore, of Trustees, Fayetteville Little Rock System and method for John Robbins Sr., Datapath Inc., providing a credit card Little Rock Little Rock with back-end payment John J. 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D610639 2/23/2010 attachments to a basketball hoop Trigger point massage D610695 2/23/2010 device Methods for assaying 7670795 3/2/2010 acetyl transferase or deacetyl activity System and methods for 7672930 3/2/2010 facilitating a linear grid database with data organization by dimension Short toothbrush D610810 3/2/2010 Stun gun D611114 3/2/2010 Stun gun D611115 3/2/2010 Stun gun D611116 3/2/2010 Domed food container D611303 3/9/2010 Mandoline D611311 3/9/2010 Solar heating system and 7677243 3/16/2010 architectural structure with a solar heating system Die casting process 7677295 3/16/2010 incorporating computerized pattern recognition techniques Composition and process 7678201 3/16/2010 for the removal and recovery of hydrocarbons from substrates Method for making 7678219 3/16/2010 segmented composite panel with false joints Device for focusing a 7678270 3/16/2010 magnetic field to treat fluids in conduits Method of making ignition 7681305 3/23/2010 wire with grafted coating Steering wheel level 7681322 3/23/2010 verification with alignment sensors attached Fault tolerant wheel 7684026 3/23/2010 alignment head and system Ball mount D612305 3/23/2010 Paintball marker sight 7685760 3/30/2010 apparatus Acoustic horn having 7686129 3/30/2010 internally raised geometric shapes Scroll compressor with 7686599 3/30/2010 device to limit orbit radius Fabrication of a large 7687334 3/30/2010 grain polycrystalline silicon film by nano aluminum-induced crystallization of amorphous silicon Bathtub D612920 3/30/2010 Leveling device D613023 3/30/2010 Blackberry plant named PP20891 3/30/2010 'Natchez' Hydraulic riding trowel 7690864 4/6/2010 with automatic load sensing system Method and apparatus for 7691253 4/6/2010 decontamination of fluid Method for manufacturing a 7691311 4/6/2010 glass fiber reinforced article, and a glass fiber reinforced article Composition and process 7691790 4/6/2010 for enhanced oil recovery Soybean cultivator 7692073 4/6/2010 S07-02KG242708 Curve dip with aligned D613150 4/6/2010 side arms and opposing center arms Method and apparatus of 7694348 4/13/2010 preventing sunburn Method and apparatus for 7695607 4/13/2010 decontamination of fluid Modulation of the activity 7696150 4/13/2010 of an interleukin 17 receptor-related protein, EV127, and uses thereof Electronic enterprise 7698188 4/13/2010 capital marketplace and monitoring apparatus and method Flexible denture and 7699610 4/20/2010 method to make same Separation system and 7699979 4/20/2010 efficient capture of contaminants using magnetic nanoparticles Remote controlled 7701086 4/20/2010 extension cord with embedded housing for a remote control Cryogenic pumping systems, 7701105 4/20/2010 rotors and methods for pumping cryogenic fluids Vehicle wheel alignment 7703213 4/27/2010 system and methodology Automatic subterranean 7703240 4/27/2010 watering device Method of applying silane 7704563 4/27/2010 coating to metal composition Pizza slicing device D614460 4/27/2010 Independent four wheel 7708292 5/4/2010 vibration damping system for riding mowers Systems, devices and 7708762 5/4/2010 methods for stabilization of the spinal column Treatment of cancer with 7709529 5/4/2010 glutamine Fishing lure having a 7712245 5/11/2010 composite weight Adjustable resilient 7712759 5/11/2010 bicycle training wheel assembly High pressure tide 7713032 5/11/2010 activated fluid pump Extended release 7713549 5/11/2010 perforated tablet Apparatus for enabling a 7717068 5/18/2010 trained dog to open a door Field easel with 7717393 5/18/2010 integrated paint with sketch box Masonry line block D616112 5/18/2010 Fuel dispensing system 7721751 5/25/2010 Adaptable dual 7722699 5/25/2010 directional, differential pressure assembly Prevention and treatment 7722858 5/25/2010 of atherosclerosis by reducing carbamylation of LDL or the effects of carbamylated LDL Pharmaceutical 7723301 5/25/2010 compositions comprising an anti-teratogenic compound and application of the same Method and system for 7725100 5/25/2010 indicating reception of an incoming call by a wireless device Accupressure device D616559 5/25/2010 Soybean cultivar 7728197 6/1/2010 S07-03K6212421 Wireless vehicle service 7729880 6/1/2010 systems using addressable devices Arcuate display stand D616673 6/1/2010 Soybean variety D5362795 7732674 6/8/2010 Method and apparatus for 7735064 6/8/2010 evaluating software Extracellular serine 7735277 6/8/2010 protease Stun baton D617411 6/8/2010 Pedicure callus wand D617498 6/8/2010 Gun safe D617525 6/8/2010 Simulated brick building 7735277 6/15/2010 panel Latch for suppressor 7735406 6/15/2010 System for controlled 7735752 6/15/2010 aerial distribution of substance Low profile latching 7736171 6/15/2010 connector Use of gene expression 7741035 6/22/2010 profiling to predict survival in cancer patients Plate dispenser D618073 6/22/2010 Roof exhaust vent D618331 6/22/2010 Steerable carriage 7744102 6/29/2010 apparatus Adaptable tile-cutter 7748372 7/6/2010 apparatus for receiving disparately sized tiles Extracellular serine 7759103 7/20/2010 protease Combination pliers and 7762163 7/27/2010 spudding tool Multiple service vending 7765026 7/27/2010 machine with unitized pricing and proportionalized analog display Handle D620339 7/27/2010 Plastic flying toy D620537 7/27/2010 Phosphorescent wind 7765863 8/3/2010 indicator Method of operating a die 7766070 8/3/2010 casting reciprocator High rise evacuation 7766124 8/3/2010 system System for blending 7766538 8/3/2010 liquids in selected ratios Sealed compressor with 7766628 8/3/2010 structure on lower housing shell to assist weld placement Monodisperse core/shell 7768647 8/3/2010 and other complex structured nanaocrystals and method of preparing the same Multi-color cavity 7768647 8/3/2010 ringdown based detention method and apparatus Minimally invasive 7769432 8/3/2010 diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer Exercise device with 7771327 8/10/2010 footboards having tubular support Bag D621153 8/10/2010 IV tube separator D621502 8/10/2010 System and method for 7778873 8/17/2010 providing advertisements to wi-fi devices Pager and mobile 7779594 8/17/2010 communications system and method Bag D621610 8/17/2010 Semi-automatic firing 7779741 8/24/2010 closed bolt-type carbine anti-jamming cartridge loading system Method of molding a 7780902 8/24/2010 shopping cart Nanotube-porphyrin 7781756 8/24/2010 molecular structure and applications of same Electronic device with an 7782205 8/24/2010 anti-theft function and method for preventing theft of electronic devices Filtering and managing 7783706 8/24/2010 electronic mail Insulated jug D622089 8/24/2010 Methods for the early 7785841 8/31/2010 diagnosis for ovarian cancer Soil treatment device 7789027 9/7/2010 Child restraint lower 7789462 9/7/2010 anchorage for a motor vehicle seat Body limb movement 7789844 9/7/2010 limiter Composition and regimen 7790203 9/7/2010 for the treatment of herpes simplex virus, herpes zoster and herpes genitalia epidermal herpetic lesions Compositions and methods 7790688 9/7/2010 for increasing muscle mass, strength and functional performance in the elderly Dumbbell shrug bench D623245 9/7/2010 Grip D623253 9/7/2010 Acupressure device D623306 9/7/2010 Reserve sheet material 7793608 9/14/2010 roll with low supply indicator Methods for the early 7795211 9/14/2010 diagnosis of ovarian cancer Elastic fishing device 7797876 9/21/2010 Dual rubber cartridge 7798210 9/21/2010 Hat accessory D623833 9/21/2010 Poultry vaccination 7802541 9/28/2010 apparatus and method Thermally tolerant pectin 7803597 9/28/2010 methylesterase Led cooler apparatus and 7806563 10/5/2010 method of use Protective outerwear 7810170 10/12/2010 apparatus Engine mount bearing 7810239 10/12/2010 sleeve repair Molecular determinants of 7811750 10/12/2010 myeloma bone disease and use thereof Portable game lift D625386 10/12/2010 Fish retention structure D625471 10/12/2010 System for distributing 7814848 10/19/2010 poultry litter below the soil surface Method for making 7816240 10/19/2010 semiconductor insulated-gate field-effect transistor having multi-layer deposited metal source(s) and/or drain(s) Bag design with solid D625515 10/19/2010 color Method and system for 7821408 10/26/2010 physically qualifying commercial overload truck drivers Bag with solid color 00625915 10/26/2010 Canister filter D626204 10/26/2010 Source: U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. If no assignee is listed, the patent holder has retained the rights. Researched by Gwen Moritz
By Robert Bell