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In-house patent lawyers pay off

An article in the Harv. Bus. Rev., Vol. 85, June 2008 at 132-3, recommends five principles for companies that wish to fend off patent trolls (See my posts of Jan. 20, 2006: trolls and litigation costs; Oct. 29, 2006: Qualcomm’s business model; May 13, 2007: Microsoft’s patent litigation against trolls; and April 8, 2006: secret governmental patents.).

The fourth principle is for firms to “foster interdepartmental and intercompany cooperation.” One example cited cites law departments: “R&D departments that assign patent lawyers to projects from the beginning tend to produce higher-quality technologies, which they are then better able to protect.”

I wonder what proof the authors have for that statement. If the statement means that patent lawyers take more care to protect the ideas of inventors, that ought to be true. But do patent lawyers improve the actual invention?

The authors continue, “Most firms don’t follow this practice, however, because it’s more expensive in the short run.” Again, where are the metrics that backup this sweeping statement? In my experience as a consultant to law departments, companies that have even a modest flow of patentable inventions set up patent review committees and bring lawyers in for initial decisions about inventions (See my post of March 23, 2008: patent review committees.).