Billing

Avoid the red flags from which conflict arises:

Gray areas, recalcitrance, and surprises.

Scot Fagerland’s business advice

This page is lengthy and detailed, but I encourage my inquiring clients to read it as fully as possible to avoid the red flags of business dealings.

Step 1: Free initial consultation

Please book your initial consultation at the appointment calendar. The purpose of this first consultation is to give us a chance to meet and see if we are a good match. Since first impressions matter, I encourage you to visit in person, or at least by videoconference. You will present the basics of your case and ask your top-of-mind questions. I will give you a sense of what to expect. This is not a time for legal services, and I can not always answer all up-front questions in the initial consultation.

Please respect my time and book a consultation only if you legitimately need to hire services related to patent / trademark / business needs. A consultation is not intended as free legal advice or Q&A’s. If you just need one or two discrete questions answered, you might find what you need on my Patents & Trademarks page. I would also refer you to a forum such as Avvo, Just Answer, Justia, or Lawyers.com .

All our discussions are automatically confidential, so by default I don’t sign NDA’s.

Only your VERY FIRST consultation is free.  All subsequent correspondence with me, whether it be a reserved consultation, a phone call, or email, is billed by the 1/4 hour.

Step 2: Small case or Starter case

I have a two-hour minimum for new clients. If your case is especially small, this may suffice to satisfy all your needs. For instance, if you are seeking advice on a short contract or you need to renew a trademark registration, I can probably handle it within the two hour minimum.

More often, though, the best use of the first two hours is the starter case. This is a communication phase for getting the case out of your head and into mine. Frankly, the starter case is probably what you were expecting the initial consultation to be. You will find that it takes more time and effort than you thought to get a lawyer well-acquainted with your case. You will also find it time well spent. I may give you questionnaires to fill out. After the starter case, I will have a good sense of your issues. We will be able to discuss strategies, options, probabilities, and estimates for your full case.

Ballpark figures for most common projects

Patents

  • The average complete utility patent application will cost you $4,000 – 6,000.  This includes legal fees, illustrations, and USPTO filing fees. Please note that this is the average range. Some patents cost more, especially those in high tech or crowded fields.
  • Be wary of firms that offer dirt-cheap patent applications. If it looks too good to be true, it’s true that it’s not good. The trap here is that patent registration is a two-step process. If you cut costs on the first step, then the best-case scenario is that you’re punting them to the second step. More likely, you are filing a bad application that can’t be salvaged later.
  • Many patent inquiries do not lead to complete applications. Therefore, I will usually perform and bill them in smaller stages so you don’t have to commit to the full cost before knowing your prospects. (See my Patent Time & Cost Estimates document for more detail).
  • Some inventions are best broken into two or more patents. For instance, if you have invented a wagon with improved brakes and an improved steering handle, the brakes and handle would probably each constitute their own patent, each with a $4,000 – 6,000 price tag. This is something to discuss after your starter case.
  • A design patent costs about half as much as a utility patent.
  • I usually have clients write their own provisional applications with my feedback. The cost is highly variable, and I generally don’t recommend provisional applications. See my Provisional Application Primer for more detail.
  • Your total lifetime cost will be about twice the cost of your initial application, spread out over a year to a decade.

Trademarks

  • Trademark applications involve many variables. A proper application could cost you as little as $500 or as much as $2,000.
  • Be wary of firms that offer dirt-cheap trademark applications. If it looks too good to be true, it’s true that it’s not good. The trap here is that trademark registration is a two-step process. If you cut costs on the first step, then the best-case scenario is that you’re punting them to the second step. More likely, you are filing a bad application that can’t be salvaged later.
  • You will pay renewal fees every 5 – 10 years.

Business & contract services

  • I can usually help properly set up a new corporation or LLC for about $2,000 +/- $500. This includes
    • analysis of which kind of entity to form
    • name availability and other considerations
    • state filing requirements
    • formalities such as bylaws or operating agreements and corporate meeting minutes
    • acquisition of an EIN and / or S-corp status
    • Los Angeles business permit if necessary
    • registration of fictitious business name
  • It usually takes me an hour to read 2 – 4 pages of contract.
  • I have templates for commonly requested contracts such as a patent license or independent contractor agreement. These can usually be filled out quickly and easily. Specialized contracts involve much more time and expense.

Rates as of 6/01/20

Professional services

  • I cost about half as much as prestigious firms and twice as much as paralegal / inventor-support services. Since I am neither an industry leader nor a price leader, I rely on excellent performance, customer satisfaction, and positive reviews to get business.
  • Unless contracted otherwise, I bill all of my time hourly, rounded to the 1/4 hr, with a two-hour minimum. 
  • The base rate is $250 / hr without pre-payment or credit card pre-authorization.  Maximum three hours service will be provided before payment is due.
  • The reward rate is $200 / hr with pre-payment or credit card pre-authorization. I recommend leaving your credit card information on file to obviate a retainer and to ensure the smoothest service. The credit card must not be expiring while service is in progress. Credit card numbers are vaulted in a PCI-DSS-compliant encrypted system.
  • Alternatively, you may earn the reward rate by pre-paying at least 150% of the quoted estimate for authorized charges.
  • I will only be comfortable working with you if you are comfortable with my legal fees. If the cost of my services will be stressful for you, you will do us both a favor by seeking out alternative resources for low-income clients.

Secretarial and Administrative Services

I am the only person in the office, i.e. the secretary and business manager as well as the attorney. I bill “secretarial services” at a 50% discount. This includes tasks that do not require the skills or a license necessary to practice law or other professional services, such as:

  • Addressing your questions about scheduling and billing
  • Mailings
  • Managing your docket and case files
  • Transit

I don’t bill for “administrative” tasks such as:

  • The weekly billing procedure
  • Opening emails and notices that arrive from a 3rd party (like the USPTO) about your case, before I get your authorization to process them further
  • Negotiating contracts for large cases (over 5 billable hours)

Billing Procedure

I bill weekly rather than monthly. This helps us avoid large balances due and to resolve any billing issues quickly. My preferred first step is to vault your credit card information. This system will qualify you for my reward rate ($50 / hr discount from the base rate), entitle you to 1/4 hr of free weekly correspondence, and reduce your minimum to one billable hour for future matters. To initiate this procedure, I must have your credit card information and authorization. You may download those forms here:

  • I only bill you for services that you have authorized in writing. For small – medium cases (up to 5 hours), this authorization may take the form of a simple “Yes, please” email. Large cases must be authorized with a formal contract.
  • I regard each week of services as an “invoice”. Each day is represented as a line item on the invoice, with a description of services. I record all services and charges in QuickBooks Online.
  • Each Monday, I email last week’s QuickBooks invoice to present you with the charges. You will have a minimum of three days to review it and ask any questions.
  • If I have your credit card information vaulted, I will then charge your card for the most recent invoice. My Square system will send you a receipt. In practice, this usually happens the following Monday. Please remember it’s coming, and don’t confuse it with a separate invoice! (Unfortunately, this step causes a lot of client confusion).
  • In the event that your credit card expires or is declined, I will notify you and give you a week to provide payment or a new card. After a week, any unpaid balance will revert to the base rate. If your credit card fails twice within a year, or thrice in any time period, then all subsequent services must be pre-paid. The default rate will be the base rate, unless you provide 150% of the estimate.
  • If you must finance charges, we can spread out your credit card payments over time for a finance fee of 2% / month (not past your credit card expiration).

Policies & Notes

  • Correspondence with me, including phone calls and emails, is billed by the 1/4 hr.  I grant a free weekly 1/4 hr to clients who leave a 150% deposit or credit card pre-authorization.
    • Your calls and emails requesting legal answers, advice, or services are billed at the full legal rate. This includes questions such as, “Which options shall we pursue?” because such questions require an attorney’s skills and experience.
    • Your calls and emails about administrative questions, instructions for your case, etc. are billed at the secretarial rate for matters under $1,000. This includes questions such as, “What are the cost and time estimates?” or “I have a question about that invoice” because these are questions that an assistant could answer if I had one.
    • Contract negotiations for large matters (more than $1,000) are not billed. This includes questions such as, “Would you like to include a prior art search?”, “Please send me a flat-fee estimate”, or “We really need this by August 5; please let us know how you could expedite it.”
  • The “second chance” rule. If your credit / debit card is declined, I will give you a week to address the failure. Without resolution, your unpaid balance will revert to the base rate. If your card fails twice within a year, or three times in any span of time, all subsequent payments must be pre-paid.
  • I charge a 25% “expedite” fee to prioritize your case over others or to meet short-term deadlines: less than a month for a utility patent application.  (Don’t wait 11 months before completing your non-provisional applications!!!  Grrr … )
  • Estimates / flat fees:  Most of my matters are close-ended in the sense that they have a particular end goal, yet open-ended in that every case is different and it is difficult to predict the exact charges.  When I assess each matter, I will provide you with an estimated range of likely hours, in the form of a mean and standard deviation. This is not a cap, flat fee, or guarantee unless contracted so.
  • If you prefer a flat fee for a project exceeding $1,000, it will be set at 25% above the maximum likely estimate.  Example:  A client requests a utility patent prior art search, and I provide a likely estimate of $500 – 1,000.  The client would prefer a flat fee, which I quote at $1,250.  This would guarantee full and thorough completion of the project as contracted, however long it takes me.
  • Other options:
    • Hourly billing with a cap (which I set at 50% above the maximum likely estimate)
    • Limited-representation flat fee (you name your price below my quote, and I will reduce my hours to meet it).
  • I do not offer written contracts or fee negotiations for projects under $1,000. However, I will still seek your written authorization for small projects via email.

Resources for low-income clients

My rates and services are optimized to serve mid-to-high-income individuals and small businesses. If you are a low-income inquirer, I appreciate the position you are in, but I am most likely not the right match for you. I would recommend the following sources:

Legal Zoom. There are many online services for inventors. Most of them are fly-by-night operations. Legal Zoom is the only one I can think of with a solid reputation. They offer flat-rate packages for trademarks and patents. Their services have fixed limits to them (three prior art references, five pages, ten claims, etc.) and they most likely do not read and analyze material as deeply as I do. But these are probably the lowest rates you’ll find for an honest job.

The USPTO’s legal assistance program. In the America Invents Act of 2011, Congress and the Obama administration created programs to help people of limited means get help with trademark and patent filings. Most of my clients are in California. For you, the local USPTO affiliates are

  • For patents only: California Lawyers for the Arts. As of 2020, the qualifying income requirement is $37,000 or below.
  • For patents or trademarks: Law School clinics. On this page, you will find a long list of law schools that offer free help from law students under the supervision of an attorney. There are several in California and many others that accept applications nationwide.

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