Photo of Raj Abhyanker by Tony Avelar.
As a law student Raj Abhyanker had many questions, mostly about why the profession seemed so inefficient.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if some people didn’t quite get Raj,” says Douglas Sylvester, dean of Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. “His questions weren’t about interpretations; they were challenges to the whole idea.
“He was never very interested in learning the doctrine of rules,” Sylvester adds. “It was always about ‘I don’t think this is right.’”
Abhyanker, 38, is responsible for the trademark search engine Trademarkia, which this year was rebranded into his law firm Legal Force. The firm has offices in Mountain View, Calif., and Phoenix, as well as London, Beijing and Bangalore, India. There’s also a Palo Alto, Calif., storefront open seven days a week that sells books, legal advice and forms. Spend $45 at the store and you get a 15-minute attorney consultation on a variety of legal areas.
“Our store is more of a lounge/bookstore than anything else,” Abhyanker says. “Our legal concierges are trained to treat everyone kindly, compassionately and help any way they can.”
A patent attorney, Abhyanker says his firm will prepare about 14,000 trademarks this year. He estimates that 2013 firm revenues will be $8.5 million. Revenues for 2012 were $7.3 million.
Two things helped make his Trademarkia site soar from filing 10 trademarks a year to approximately 9,000 in 2012. First, Abhyanker says, the site’s search engine mines the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s trademark database more efficiently than the government’s own search tool. And second, fees range from $159 up, depending on the matter’s complexity, plus the $325 PTO trademark registration fee. Other trademark applicants might pay $150 to $500 an hour in attorney fees alone for the process.
Still, Abhyanker sees himself as more of an engineer than a lawyer.
“I wanted to create a firm that allows me to support myself and fund my engineering projects,” he says.
The path to an $8.5 million book of business has not been a smooth one. Abhyanker’s parents, Indian immigrants who owned a computer store, went bankrupt and lost the business when he was an ASU engineering student.
He started law school there in 1999. “I left after one year. That was partly because I didn’t like it, and partly because I did not have enough money to stay in school,” Abhyanker says.
Next came an engineering job with Silicon Valley’s Juniper Networks. Then the Internet market crashed and Abhyanker was out of work. He felt bad that his wife, a pharmacist, was supporting him and went back to law school in January 2003.
“I needed to find a way to make a living,” he says. “So I didn’t hate it so much.”
After graduating, Abhyanker tried doing patent work at law firms, but found that wasn’t the right fit. He went on to start the neighborhood social networking site Fatdoor, raising more than $5.5 million in venture capital. In 2007 he was let go as the site’s CEO. And four years after Abhyanker was pushed out, Google purchased the site, then known as Dealmap, for $30 million.
In 2009 Abhyanker launched Trademarkia with software engineer Dongxia Liu. Rather than deal with venture capital funding again, Abhyanker financed the site with a home equity loan. He also kept his patent practice running as a sole practitioner.
And the firm’s success has taught him something:
“I don’t feel bad about failure anymore,” he says. “I feel bad if I don’t try.”
Watch this interview video.