The Patent Lawyer as Software Artisan
By Carlyn Kolker
Patent lawyers are like scribes: They record a masterpiece someone else has created. But occasionally a lawyer comes along who is an artist -- or at least an artisan -- in his own right.
Wesley Whitmyer Jr., a partner at St. Onge Steward Johnston & Reens, an 18-lawyer intellectual property firm in Stamford, Conn., has developed a way to eliminate the administrative headaches in tracking patents and trademarks. He wrote his own software.
Wesley Whitmyer Jr.
"In the process of automating my own law office, I realized there were no good products out there," says Whitmyer, who does computer programming as a hobby. Because he is in the business of writing patents, he also decided to seek patent protection. So far, he's received three patents, and another application is pending by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
The firm began to implement Whitmyer's database about five years ago, and it's been through about four iterations. It tracks reminders for important dates, such as the due date of a notification letter. The system helps Whitmyer assemble and manage the large volume of documents he manages in his practice.
St. Onge has hundreds of form documents stored in its internal database, including models of letters to the U.S. patent office, client correspondence and some litigation-related documents, such as responses to subpoenas. These documents can be assembled automatically with client-specific information, such as a patent's serial number.
"There is no machine that is going to write a patent application for you, but you can use a machine to generate paperwork for an application," says Whitmyer.
He also has automated the process of communicating with clients. The firm's database automatically sends clients reminders with forms requesting a client's authorization to send out a specific form or letter.
Last year, St. Onge made some of the information in its database available to clients online. (Whitmyer has a patent to deliver services online.) Clients can log on to the site and review their patents and trademarks, and they can enter relevant information about utility patents and a calculator will figure out when a patent will expire. The system will do the same for trademark renewal dates.
Whitmyer says he spent "the better part of four years" designing this system. St. Onge also hired a full-time programmer
The system was "expensive" -- Whitmyer won't put a dollar figure on it -- but St. Onge lawyers say the system ultimately will make its clients happy, and will give the firm an edge against other boutiques.
"By striking it out in the tech direction we can show clients we are independent and progressive," says Louis Reens.
Carlyn Kolker is a technology reporter for American Lawyer Media Inc.