I am revisiting the idea of creating an interdisciplinary firm that includes legal services + design services.

I have design experience in both corporate and consulting settings. I also have extensive real-life experience in manufacturing, distribution, sales and marketing via my ventures. I appeared on QVC twice and sold my own brand of fragrance at Sephora and Henri Bendel. I also contract manufactured for a South Korean fashion brand. I have hands on experience in bringing product to market. I really think this is one of my strengths. However, one of my major clients went bankrupt and owed me over $600K! This wiped out my young venture.

So, I fell back into law. I currently run a small law office and do general practice, but my specialty is intellectual property law. However, small law offices do not really attract many product related start-up companies. Plus, being in law only is very limiting, and I don’t feel I’m living professionally to my full potential.

I think I would do very well if I also moved to an area where there is a lot of innovation, i.e., the west coast.

In any case, I am going to pursue this, but would love to hear your opinions and thoughts on the viability of design + law firm that provides the following:
Product design and development;
Trademark design and development;
Market Penetration Strategy; and
Legal protection.

interesting concept, but i dont think there would be much potential for it, personally. Law and Design are two very different industries, cultures, etc. and I would think a good lawyer wouldnt make a very good designer and vice versa. You’d be fighting the perception of creative designer vs. boring lawyer. Would be a tough sell and I’d expect you’d end up sorta in the middle compromise land…

Law for product design, IP specialty might have good potential for a niche, however. Maybe you just need to market more specifically to designers, product related-companies to find your niche. (join IDSA, ads in ID mag, etc.)

just my 0.02$ worth.


It is very true that law and design, insofar as “culture” goes, are like water and oil. The comparison reminds me of the Apple commercial with the “geek” representing PC and the “cool” guy representing Apple. I know the public likes everything to be either black or white, or at least the adversting world would like the world to be.

I know I’m in a very unique position being both a product designer and lawyer. I think I’m good at both if I may say so ~~~ Please indulge me.

When I was in law school I did a paper on Apple v. Microsoft. The issue stemmed around how Microsoft basically ripped off Apples “desktop” operations with its icons and what not. What I realized was how well Microsoft used or manipulated law to its advantage. I know I’m over simplifying the outcome. But, the point remains that design would be even more effective and profitable if legal ramifications are considered in the design process.

Through a program at our law school (law, technology & management) we discovered many inventors and even engineers who pursued ideas only to run into all sorts of obstacles with legal ones being the most daunting.

Of course, there are many IP firms out there, but very few for product design. And, the U.S. laws are very limiting when it comes to product design. You may know that design patents are useless, though pursued.

Unlike Europe where product design is protected under their copyright laws the U.S. Copyright law does not cover product design. The law separates from what is functional and what is decorative, for instance. I did a paper on this, and had the occasion of meeting the Secretary of Commerce in 1995 when I worked for US Patent & Trademark Office -he concurred that the U.S. laws when it came to product design was prosaic.

In any case, my proposed law/design firm (it would be 90% design by the way) would really come valuable when it comes to whether a particular design is not only marketable, but has the criteria to be patentable, etc.

A client may choose my firm to carry out legal work. It would be a choice.

I’m just proposing that a design that encompasses aesthetics, human factors, engineering and law would be that much more beneficial in the marketplace.

the sad reality is that (esp. in the US) any patents, copyrights, trademarks, etc. are only as useful as the buckets of cash a company would need to protect/enforce them.

Most small-mid companies I know of who have things designed for them by a design consultancy never go to patent because of this. In this way, your firm would be more useful for larger companies, but more large companies I would think would go to a larger, more established design studio, and likely have their own in-house legal dept.


Small companies do spend money on legal protection. Many just aren’t aware or educated on the value of legal protection.

At the same time it does cost $$$ to protect and enforce. This is really a business decision.

I had a client who literally counterfeited a simple key chain idea. I advised them that the other side had a design patent which was useless, but had a utility patent on it (done by a major law firm). After examining their patent (a narrow one at that) my client was advised to stop further manufacturing and distribution. I was actually surprised that a small outfit with a simple and novel design actually paid for legal protection and enforcement.

The company that was the patent holder spent about $30,000 on legal fees, but it was worth it for them to go after small guys who otherwise would just benefit from counterfeiting. Besides law gives them treble damages on the earnings alone.


My firm is actually loosely based on your design/legal model. Towards the end of our first project we went with the client to meet with a patent attorney. That particular project didn’t really go anywhere, but the attorney called us later and said he had a lot of clients who came to him requesting patents (of course they’ve mostly seen the inventech commercials and think that once they get a patent they will immediately be awarded $6 million by a Big Company), but they had nowhere to go for design work, prototyping, or manufacturing assistance. We’ve been working with the attorney ever since. About 80% of our work comes through him. We constantly refer clients back and forth. Most of our clients are individual inventors; having done this for three years i will recommend that you not have them form 80% of your client base, but i do think having both services in-house would be beneficial. I’m east coast in a not-tremendously affluent area, somewhere with more money you might do fine working with individuals though.


Thanks for the reply. I’m glad to hear that my plans are in fact realized with your firm and the attorney. The key is to convince the patent-applicant to go the extra mile and invest in good product design services.

I think you need to carefully consider the ethics rules for your state, which may preclude you from creating a firm mixing another profession with law.

I myself am an attorney, but fall on the wrong side of “…a good lawyer wouldn’t make a very good designer and vice versa”…so I am in the process of attempting to switch to ID where I should have been in the first place and where my talents and interest will be useful!

Indeed, I wrote to the ethics committee on this very issue 10 years ago. And, got the green light with certain parameters. Bascially, my physical office would have to have 2 separate businesses: a law office and design firm with 2 separate business accounts, etc.

I’d have to wear a tie one day, and a black T-shirt another day! :sunglasses: Check-in with the right side of the brain one day, and the left another . . . .

Yes, convincing an individual to invest in good design is very difficult. We do end up saying “no” to a lot of people because they want us to do the job halfway and it just can’t be done. Some have investors and that works out pretty well, but then you have two clients to please! On the other hand, a lot of people are just looking to get a patent; they have no intention of producing or selling the product themselves, so we get to do the really fun part where you just make something work without having to satisfy marketing’s obsession with the color red.


If a firm could squeeze out a profit and have fun while at it then that’s success!

My firm will focus not only on the product, but its distribution and marketing strategies which I enjoy very much. In the end the product a firm helps to design needs to get into the consumer’s hand and gain market share for all of us to survive in the long run.

Cool, so when I’m done designing the product I can send it to you? Marketing and Distribution are my least favorite parts to work with. I really do need to find someone to handle the manufacturing side too. It’s getting hard to focus on design when I spend most of the day emailing and talking to manufacturers.


I guess you’re a purist designer at heart. I’m more of an entrepreneur that knows how to sketch :sunglasses:

This kind of “whole mind thinking” is a key part of the futre. I think you are on to somethin Enigma. If you haven’t already, pick up a copy of Daniel Pink’s “A Whole New mind”. Great bokk that I’m sure you will enjoy and get some tips from.


Thanks for the book recommendation! I’m always looking for an inspiring and forward-thinking read!

I’m going to get it tomorrow!