Patent Accessibility for Small Business Owners

Patent Accessibility for Small Business Owners

Patents and the Small Business Owner

While some people launching a small business for the first time might not have legal help at the top of their mind, most everyone would agree that even thinking about pursuing a patent means it’s time to call an attorney. While your lawyer will probably agree that legal advice is a good idea when it comes to patent applications, there are things you can do on your own in the early stages.

Legal Help When You Need It

Giant corporations can afford to keep attorneys on staff or on retainer. If you’re a small business owner, you probably have to budget carefully for legal advice. The good news is there is a great deal of free information and support available from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USTPO). They offer good early planning advice and ideas that can be a big help to hopeful entrepreneurs considering a patent. If this describes you, check out the Getting Started section of their website that includes a patent basics section with good information on Types of Patent Applications, Process Overview, Using Legal Services, and Inventor Resources.

However, much of the material is written for lawyers, not laymen. For example, you can download the 36 page guide to filing a design patent, but you may be dismayed by the opening paragraph:

Since a design is manifested in appearance, the subject matter of a design patent application may relate to the configuration or shape of an article, to the surface ornamentation applied to an article, or to the combination of configuration and surface ornamentation.

Huh? Not to worry! There is plenty of simple, straight forward advice on researching your business idea to see if someone already holds a trademark, copyright, or patent on it. And while you may not yet be entirely clear about what type of patent you are filing for, the USTPO has a good FAQ page where you can start to explore the possibility of obtaining a patent for your idea. Here are a couple of tips from the FAQ section you will want to consider:

1. Avoid Being Scammed
The USTPO recommends that you check on the reputation of an invention promotion firm before engaging one to help you in the patent process – something you can do easily online or on their website.

2. Get Help from the IAC
The Inventors Assistance Center (IAC) provides patent information and services to the public and is staffed by former Supervisory Patent Examiners, experienced Primary Patent Examiners, various intellectual property specialists and attorneys who can answer general questions (but cannot give legal advice).

How to Contact the IAC
Hours: Monday – Friday, 8:30 AM – 8:00 PM (ET), except federal holidays
Toll-free: 800-PTO-9199 (800-786-9199)
Local: 571-272-1000
TDD/TTY customers can dial 800-877-8339 for customer assistance

Greater Clarity, Better Service

While the patent process is complicated, the USTPO has recently launched the Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative (EPQI) to strengthen their “work products, processes, services, and how we measure patent quality at all stages of the patent process.” While this may not translate into an immediate do-it-yourself model for patent applications, it does have Denver-area intellectual property lawyers hopeful about a more streamlined process, including more affordable alternatives to the appeals process.

Can a Denver Small Business Lawyer Help?

Patent law is highly specialized and not typically part of the practice for any small business attorneys that I know of in Denver. However, when it is time to hire a patent attorney, I can refer you to some of the best. Meanwhile, if I can help you draft company documents, review your online legal standing, or decide on the right language for an employment contract, you can reach me, Elizabeth Lewis, at the Law Office of E.C. Lewis PC, home of your Denver Business Lawyer: 720-258-6647 or email me at

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