How a law firm helps tech startups execute the right IP strategy

How do companies on the Inc. 5000 list grow so rapidly? We interview Inc. 5000 companies’ CEOs to break down what they do differently and find out as much as possible about their ‘secret sauce’. Today, we interview Richard Gearhart, founder and CEO of Gearhart Law (Inc. 5000 honoree).

NXT: What is Gearhart Law?

We’re a law firm that specializes in intellectual property (“IP”) strategy & protection for startups.

First, we analyze the technology and project.  It’s important to understand from the get-go the client’s plans: do they want to license the technology to other companies, are they looking for a sale/exit, or do they want to run this business for the long term?

Then, based on the client’s plans and preferences, we can develop the right IP strategy to support them in the right direction.

NXT: What type of startups do you work with?

We work with a lot of inventors (people who often have a full-time job and are looking to start a new project) and entrepreneurs who are either fundraising or recently completed their funding round.

Typically, the founders that come to us appreciate the importance of IP protection so they’re willing to invest in order to make sure that their technology is properly protected before taking further steps in the commercialization process.

NXT: Is it critical for tech companies to seek out IP law firms very early on?

Consider this: every month we do about 15 patent searches.  What we discover is that ⅓ of them aren’t patentable because someone else has already patented the idea and would block them.

So an important part of IP is understanding the competitive landscape.  Before you even start a project, it’s often a good idea to do some research to check if someone else has already protected your idea.

Sometimes there may be ways around it, but other times we discover significant roadblocks.  You don’t want to find out about those down the line, when you’ve already invested heavily in development etc.

NXT: What makes you different than competitors?

There are many law firms that offer patent services.  But their main focus is on larger companies.  They may do a few smaller clients but really don’t understand what the entrepreneur needs in terms of support and guidance.  Structuring an IP portfolio for an exit is different than generating a portfolio for a large company.

We’re entrepreneurs at heart, which allows us to really empathize with what they’re going through and “get” what they need.

Being part of the entrepreneurial community, we’ve also developed an extensive network of people who can help entrepreneurs with prototyping and marketing or other services, so we help in many different ways.

NXT: How did you win your first client?

The first client came after a presentation that I gave about patents for NJ entrepreneurs.

NXT: And how are you winning clients now?

We do a lot of work on social media and outbound, which generates about half our business.  And the other half comes inbound from getting involved in the community.  We sponsor entrepreneurial events and educate entrepreneurs whenever we can.

NXT: Many B2B companies are struggling with outbound – is it working for you?

Yes, outbound definitely works.  In fact, we found a $6.5bn client through outbound.  Social media and advertising campaigns are a key business-building component.

But you have to support it with brand-building activities to make it effective.  We don’t see events as generating new business, but help raise our profile in the community, which is very important.

And same as outbound isn’t very effective on its own, events won’t be very effective if they’re not complemented with outbound campaigns.

NXT: What would you say has been your secret sauce for rapid growth?

I’d say 3 things have helped us:

  1. We always make sure to deliver more value to our clients than what they paid for.  That way, we get great recommendations and referrals.
  2. Our business model is such that when we get a client they stay on for 3-5 years by the nature of the patent process and IP strategies.  So new clients are compounding our business.  And we expand our services as our clients grow.
  3. We keep up with trends and new marketing technologies, as well as new developments in the IP field.

NXT: As an entrepreneur, what do you wish you had known or started focusing on earlier?

Think long-term.  When you’re starting out you have to focus on making the next payroll and getting the money in the door.  But you also have to think about the long term.  It’s a tough balance but inevitably your current processes aren’t going to take you very far.  So always keep an eye on the question “How do you scale up?” – it’s not just sales but also your processes that need to be overhauled or planned ahead.

Gearhart Law


Founder of Board Studios Inc, an animation production agency that helps B2B companies simplify and communicate more effectively. Specializing in B2B makes a big difference because we know what information your clients need, what works and what doesn’t. B2B communications can be very different than B2C, so if you get your video explainer from a B2C agency you may not get the results you deserve.

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