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ARCHIVED  August 13, 1999

Patent law taps talents

Technology is one of the fastest-growing areas of the U.S. economy, and for many companies, protecting intellectual property can mean the success or failure of their business.Patents to protect new electronic parts, procedures, medical devices, computer software, and even toys and books are in greater demand than ever before. Many patent law firms now specialize in areas such as electronics or biotechnology and have expert consultants on staff with backgrounds in a variety of fields.
The number of patent law firms is on the rise, but most patent attorneys stay busy with referrals and do not do a lot of marketing.
Luke Santangelo, principal attorney at Santangelo Law Offices in Fort Collins, was a physicist before he became an attorney.
“We try to provide the services our clients want. We do a little bit of advertising, but we are not at the forefront of marketing legal services,” Santangelo said. “Our clients come to us by word of mouth. We do a lot of explaining about how intellectual property works.”
Santangelo said that technology companies look at intellectual property as a very important part of their business, and some even base the value of the company on patent applications. Hence, companies are placing more emphasis on patent applications and the patents themselves.
As patents take priority, companies are inclined to look for attorneys with extensive expertise in the fields where they are seeking patents.
“Companies are looking for attorneys who are conversant — people who can speak their language,” Santangelo said. “Our attitude is that we integrate [a patent] into many other decisions, some of which are financial.”
Walking through the patent process with companies and making sure that their reasons to patent are sound is part of what Santangelo says sets his firm apart.
“This is an important area, and we can look at it a variety of ways,” he said. “We ask, RIs that decision wise?’ Then we try to provide value and not just think that we are going through a bureaucratic procedure.
“Most clients don’t know the difference between a patent and a trademark, so we do a lot of educating. What we do is protect creativity. It comes naturally to me.”
Other attorneys feel they have the edge over other firms by being part of the process. Rick Martin, a patent attorney in Longmont whose clients stretch into Northern Colorado and Wyoming, says that in addition to his legal position, he is also an entrepreneur.
Martin decided to become a patent attorney after spending four years as an IBM computer salesman in Manhattan and eight years as a division manager for another high-tech company. He advertises his practice, Patent Law Offices of Rick Martin PC, in business publications as well as in the yellow pages.
But most of Martin’s exposure to potential clients comes from the time he donates to groups and organizations.
“I do a lot of personal outreach, and I do a lot of volunteer work,” he said. “I was a guest speaker at the National Innovation Workshop Series, I am a sponsor of the Rocky Mountain Inventor’s Club, several chambers of commerce, a sponsor of the Boulder Technology Incubator, and I belong to and sponsor many other groups.”
This technique has worked well for Martin, who now has more than 600 clients.
“I didn’t have any clients in 1992. Now I pick up one or two a week from referrals and lots of volunteerism,” he said. “I also know how to start up and run a business. I have helped many people become successful in business. I would say I do a lot of public-relations type work, and I have to believe that it helps my business.”
About two-thirds of Martin’s clients are entrepreneurial startup companies, and about one-third are large high-tech firms. Though he stays busy, Martin says that the patent industry is becoming increasingly competitive. At least six national patent law firms have recently opened offices in Denver and Boulder, and Martin said he is the only soloist who has succeeded in patent law in the last few years.
One of Martin’s clients, Carrier Access Corp., a telecommunications equipment manufacturer in Boulder, has five patents and five patents pending. Sherin Tedeschi, manager of corporate communications at CAC, said the company uses several patent attorneys and looks for those who have expertise in their field.
“Rick Martin did our original patent,” she said. “It is always helpful to have someone with some technical background and expertise in our field so we don’t need to bring in a third-party consultant such as an engineer in telecommunications.”
While high-tech firms look for specialists in their area, most patent attorneys still do very little advertising.
“There are more and more attorneys in the field, but I haven’t found any need to advertise except in the yellow pages,” said William Hein, principal attorney with Hein Law Offices in Loveland, Denver and Colorado Springs.
Hein, who refers to patent attorneys as the brain surgeons of the legal profession, said that Colorado’s booming high-tech sector keeps referrals flowing.
“The economy in Colorado is becoming like Silicon Valley,” he said. “The business is growing, and the demand is there.”
Hein has an electronics background and was a patent attorney for Hewlett Packard Co. for 22 years. He went into private practice in 1985 and has degrees in electrical engineering. Hein still does some patent work for H-P.
Most high-tech companies come to the stage in their development where they need to seek patent advice. Projectworx Inc., a new company in Fort Collins, is approaching that stage. The company develops proprietary work for Internet applications, including Web-site development, and is just on the verge of seeking patent advice.
“We are developing an e-business package applicable to small businesses for retail or business to business,” said Dave Gallup, director of business development for the startup. “At this point, it does not have a solid form. This might be something we develop for a specific client, and it also might be for sale to clients.”
Gallup said that at some point they will need to seek out a patent attorney.
“It would make sense for us to look for someone with a computer-science background, because most of our development is in software,” he said. “And we will try to find someone local — I like to keep money local.”

Technology is one of the fastest-growing areas of the U.S. economy, and for many companies, protecting intellectual property can mean the success or failure of their business.Patents to protect new electronic parts, procedures, medical devices, computer software, and even toys and books are in greater demand than ever before. Many patent law firms now specialize in areas such as electronics or biotechnology and have expert consultants on staff with backgrounds in a variety of fields.
The number of patent law firms is on the rise, but most patent attorneys stay busy with referrals and do not do a lot…

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