Are online legal websites really a cheaper alternative?
By: Rudman Winchell Attorney Anthony Pellegrini
There are many online legal websites these days, offering services for seemingly a much lower cost than what an attorney in a traditional setting would charge. Though clients may prefer the ability to meet with and speak to a live person, the lure of the discount may be too much to ignore. But are these legal websites really less expensive?
I provide patent services to my clients, including performing prior art searches (to see if an invention is patentable), preparation of patent applications, patent filing services, patent prosecution, and patent maintenance. While every patent is different, and fees vary by complexity, I typically quote a price range of from $4,500 to $6,000 for patent application preparation and filing, including prior art searching. I recently was told by a potential client that my rates were more than he could afford, and he was going to use LegalZoom™, an online provider, instead. Curious, I thought to compare what I charge to what one can get through that service.
At first blush, LegalZoom™ seems hard to beat. For the low price of $699, one gets a phone consultation and up to four patent drawings. However, that is all one gets for that sum. No prior art search, no patent application, nothing filed. Adding a prior art search increases the cost by $399. That’s $1098, still without an application, and the search is limited to an analysis of no more than three references (I typically analyze six or eight or more references). LegalZoom™ charges an additional $2400 to prepare a “basic” application that can be filed with the Patent Office. They define a basic application as containing up to five pages of specification (the description of the invention) and up to ten claims (the scope of the legal benefit sought by the inventor). However, that is a very basic product indeed. Patent applications that I draft for my clients typically have specifications that are fifteen to twenty pages long, if not longer, to properly describe the invention and its alternate embodiments, and contain between 20 and 30 claims, if not more, to maximize patent allowance strategies. LegalZoom™ does offer an “enhanced” application, for $3400, which contains up to eight pages of specification and up to 15 claims. Still far less than what I provide, yet adding the cost of the enhanced application to the prior art search and consultation fee brings LegalZoom’s™ total to $4498. In addition, a typical patent application usually requires more than four patent drawings (all that are included in the LegalZoom™ initial consultation package). To get four more patent drawings from LegalZoom™ costs an additional $399, for a total cost of $4897. Getting ten drawings (a typical number) brings the total to $5296. That figure is well within the range that I typically quote, though even with the “enhanced” package LegalZoom™ provides far less by way of search references, richness of specification, and number of claims. That means the inventor will not have as robust a patent application nor be able to use a patent drafting strategy that maximizes the likelihood of a patent not only being granted but also having enough breadth so as to be valuable to the inventor. A limited claims set, like what one gets from LegalZoom™, makes this more difficult to achieve.
That is not the end of the story, though. Once a patent application is filed, it still has to be examined by the Patent Office and more often than not issues raised by the patent examiner must be resolved. This is known as patent prosecution, and this typically does not occur for two or more years after the patent application is filed. It does not appear that LegalZoom™ offers patent prosecution services, but if it should add such in the future, it is likely that the inventor will be assigned a random patent practitioner to the task, as opposed to the practitioner who drafted the application years earlier. That may result in some loss of understanding of the details of the invention, which was necessarily obtained by the drafter in preparing the application and which is critical in successfully prosecuting an application. Because I prosecute the patents I draft for my clients, there is no learning curve when the time comes to respond to the Patent Office.
So in the end, a client using LegalZoom™ may save a few dollars (or not, it’s a pretty close call), but the product received cannot compare with the product I deliver, nor are the full scope of services offered by me available online. When committing such a sizeable amount of one’s resources towards obtaining a patent, penny smart may very well be pound foolish.
[Note: all prices quoted above are exclusive of U.S. government filing fees. LegalZoom™ pricing accurate as of November 2015.]
These materials have been prepared by Rudman Winchell for educational purposes only. They should not be considered legal advice. The transmission of this information to you is not intended to create a lawyer-client relationship. Readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel. You should not send any confidential or private information to Rudman Winchell until a formal attorney-client relationship has been established, in writing.