John Rizvi, Esq.
My Confessional to Inventors
When I was a kid growing up in Topeka, Kansas, there were farms everywhere and a rudimentary knowledge of chicken farming was widespread. I’m not in Kansas anymore, but I never really got away from my love of chickens. Not many people know this about me so this is a confessional of sorts.
After all, my training as a patent attorney took place far from the cornfields of Kansas. I cut my teeth at the New York City law firm of Fish & Neave. If you don’t know Fish & Neave, they are the lawyers that represented Thomas Edison with his patent on the lightbulb, Henry Ford, Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone, and the Wright Brothers with the invention of the airplane. Fish & Neave is to patents what Muhammad Ali is to boxing. The greatest of all time. But for me something was missing.
I wanted to work with inventors and start-ups with new ideas. Instead, the Fish & Neave of today mostly represented huge multinational corporations. All of my meetings were with lawyers and MBA’s. I felt like I was moving paper around and was too far removed from the creative spark of a new idea.
Not once did I meet with an inventor.
My dream was to quit and start my own patent law firm focusing on early-stage ideas. The “garage inventor”. The Steve Jobs and Bill Gates before they became Apple & Microsoft.
After learning from and working with the best patent attorneys in the world, I had more than enough of corporate patent law and wanted to work directly with inventors. I gave up practice in mid-town Manhattan, and my wife and I moved to South Florida and built a home on two acres in Southwest Broward County (kind of like our own personal version of “Green Acres”).
Here, I introduced my kids to raising chickens by building a small backyard coop and taking in a small flock of five birds as pets.
If you were not raised on a farm, you may not realize that aside from different breeds, chickens generally fall into three classes. There are broilers, those chickens which wind up in your kitchen and on your plate in a million different ways. There are layers, those chickens whose entire purpose is to produce eggs.
And then there are the others, the “multi-purpose” birds, who ultimately provide both meat and eggs. A recent variant is “pet” chickens that are raised primarily for their friendly disposition and their fancy looks and this is the category my backyard chickens fall into.
Now, you can get eggs from a pet chicken, but you won’t get the production or quality you will have from chickens bred to be egg layers. You can also get meat from a laying bird, but the quality of the final product will almost certainly end up being inferior to that coming from a chicken that is purpose-bred for meat. Likewise, a multipurpose bird delivers “okay” meat and “okay” eggs and makes for an “okay” pet, but they are noticeably lacking when compared to the meat from a broiler, the eggs from a laying chicken and generally do not make great pets although an individual bird might be an exception.
Turning to lawyers, the bar associations of several states have created a board certification system that puts attorneys through a rigorous process of specialization to certify that the lawyer has developed particular expertise in a narrow subject area. You can get a multi-purpose lawyer and like a multi-purpose chicken, they may be “okay” for a wide variety of purposes but you will not have the added assurance that a board-certified specialist will have.
Using chickens as an example again, consider if you’re going to a family reunion and are tasked with bringing fried chicken. Odds are, you’re not going to be too concerned about the overall quality of the birds the meat came from. You probably want a balance between acceptable flavor and low cost. But the same chicken you have no problem serving to that second cousin you’ve never really liked anyway wouldn’t do to serve guests at your wedding, would it? For a once in a lifetime event, you want food which equals and reflects the importance of the day and creates a lasting memory for everyone in attendance.
You may have noticed in your business that “Jacks of all trades and masters of none” tend not to fare as well as those who specialize in a given application. Whether it’s finance, administration, construction or law, there are limits to the results a generalist can deliver. This doesn’t and shouldn’t be taken to mean that generalists are incompetent or deliver bad results. Often, the results they deliver are perfectly serviceable for a given application. Often, corporations will hire a generalist to be an in-house attorney that supervises specialist outside law firms that are given responsibility for limited tasks.
The problem is, when you are only getting “okay” results from your “jacks of all trades,” you can only offer “okay” results to those you service in turn. This may mean your investors, clients or the general public. While most people will be satisfied with the outcome most of the time, some will never be satisfied at any time and many will be unsatisfied with the outcome at least once. When this happens, you lose time, money, business and goodwill within your niche.
As professionals, we strive to deliver excellence in every facet of our business. I certainly do as a patent attorney. I can’t even begin to recall how many clients have come to me, afraid of the expense to retain me, but more afraid of getting more of the merely okay or even poor results they got from generalist legal counsel or an attorney that does patent work but who is not a board-certified specialist.
Just to be clear, the vast majority of these attorneys weren’t bad at what they did by any means! They simply lacked the specialist knowledge of patent law and its accompanying requirements to deliver more than “acceptable” results, and when they encountered problems outside their experience and knowledge base, the results often left their clients in dire straits. These clients, having already been burned once, came to me as someone with experience and specialized knowledge of patent and intellectual property law, something most attorneys do as a sideline if at all.
Stories like this abound throughout the legal and business world. You wouldn’t hire a plumber to redo your roof, would you? Or a fry cook to deliver a gourmet meal? Sure, it’s possible you could get great results, but the odds are overwhelmingly low of better than an “okay” outcome. Sure, a company with multiple divisions can deliver optimal results. A construction contractor employing both dedicated plumbers and roofers could and should certainly be expected to be able to deliver outstanding results in both areas. On the other hand, remember the lackluster results when Michael Jordan decided to try his hand at professional baseball!
We all want to be the best, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But to achieve that, we need to steer away from the multipurpose mentality and decide if we’re going to be broilers or layers. There’s nothing wrong with being a jack of all trades, but the best results are always going to come from the people and businesses who have dedicated themselves to doing one thing, or one specific intersection of things, to the utmost limits of their knowledge and ability.
Good enough never is. It was true on my parent’s kitchen table as a kid, and it’s even more true now that I have a family of my own. Don’t be a multipurpose bird; do the one thing that sets you apart and do it well every time. When you’re looking for results, be sure to choose the “chicken” which will give you the best outcomes. This way, you can be sure you’re getting and delivering the best you have to offer, all the time, every time.
Choose the kind of chicken you want to be, and the kind of chickens you roost with, carefully. And when you want a patent that is second to none, go with someone that is a board certified specialist in patent law.
A single-purpose bird like me is the way to go - someone that lives, eats, breathes, and bleeds patents!
ABOUT JOHN RIZVI
John Rizvi is a Registered and Board Certified Patent Attorney, Adjunct Professor of Intellectual Property Law, best-selling author, and featured speaker on topics of interest to inventors and entrepreneurs (including TEDx).
His books include "Escaping the Gray" and "Think and Grow Rich for Inventors" and have won critical acclaim including an endorsement from Kevin Harrington, one of the original sharks on the hit TV show - Shark Tank, responsible for the successful launch of over 500 products resulting in more than $5 billion in sales worldwide.