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It’s not personal. It’s business. February 4, 2009

Posted by Brian Schar in General, Patent prosecution.

Whether you prefer in-house or law firm practice is a function of your personality, your background, your goals, and a dozen other highly personal factors.  I like in-house practice much better than I liked law firm practice, in part because I love being close to the technology, and working with the technical staff right at the conception of cool new inventions.  I’ve been at my company for over seven years, because it’s the best job I’ve ever had.  The people and the technology are fantastic, and I almost never have a day where I dread coming into the office.

What I didn’t expect to happen, and what’s happened over the last year or so, is that I’ve started to take USPTO actions personally.  When you’re a hired gun, and there’s a new file on your desk every day from a different client, it’s easy to stay detached and just respond to office actions, no matter how silly or slapdash they may be at times.  Often you don’t even know the client.  But when you’re in house, particularly after you’ve been at a company for a long time, you know the client very well.  You’re deeply involved in the business and its well being, and you believe in it and its potential.  So when you get a bad office action, or some bizarre new USPTO procedure rears its ugly head, it’s not a detached, impersonal letter you can wave around the firm and laugh at with your fellow attorneys.  Instead, it’s a threat to the business, and a personal insult.

Except, it’s not.  It’s just an Office communication, for better or worse.  What in-house lawyers need to remember is that it’s not personal.  It’s business.  (While I’m not a huge fan of “The Godfather,” it’s unquestionable that film is a huge repository of wisdom.)  Being involved with the business rather than an impersonal, ivory-tower in-house lawyer is a good thing; it’s one of the reasons most of us in-house took that career path.  But being so involved that you take USPTO communications personally does a disservice to the client and interferes with your ability to represent your client’s interests to the best of your ability.

I’m not a fan of new year’s resolutions; there’s no point in waiting for January 1 to roll around if you want to change something.  But I am making a belated new year’s resolution to take a deep breath and say “it’s only business” before I open up one of those brown manila envelopes from the USPTO.  If you’re a fellow in-house counsel having the same problem – whether you’re dealing with the USPTO, the SEC, or any other state or federal alphabet agency, I would suggest you do the same.


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