The joke is told in science departments about the Agricultural college that ran out of county agents to answer farmers’ questions and help solve their problems. So, they sent out a physicist to do a month’s work at a dairy farm. When he returned, he began his report by drawing a circle on the blackboard and stating that, “we started with the assumption that a cow is a sphere, uniformly filled with milk.”

Some pricing models seem to assume that law is a sphere uniformly filled with milk.

Recently, a large corporate client asked us to hand off post-PCT national phase filing to their outside service provider. I assume that the outside service provider had negotiated standard fees around the world and offered standard fees to the client corporation.

The service provider sent us a checklist of items that we were to provide from our file, and we did so. After all, the client is entitled to their file materials and we had no objection to sending them in a helpful and prompt manner.

The next request was, however, a little different. The third-party outside provider asked us for a document that did not exist, had never been prepared, and by WIPO rules would have been the WRONG document to prepare. I wrote back to the third-party service provider and explained that we had done our work entirely in accordance with WIPO requirements, and accordingly no such document existed.

The third-party provider wrote back the next day (through an employee one level up apparently) telling me that they really needed this document because it was required in a target country.

What was going on? Let me guess. The associate in the target country wasn’t going to prepare a brand-new document from scratch, because they weren’t getting paid for it. The client corporation wasn’t going to create the document because they were paying the third-party provider to do that. The third-party provider didn’t want to do it, because third-party provider’s pricing model encouraged him to avoid doing it even though it was a required document and even though he promised those services to client corporation. So, the “provider” sort of passively suggested that we do it.

I wrote back and said okay I’ll do it, but only if the client corporation directly authorizes me and pays me an hour’s time at my normal rate. At that point the third-party “provider” gave up and presumably did the job themselves, a job that could’ve been done entirely from public records without ever asking me (or anyone else) to do anything. (We won’t even get into the ethics of passing off someone else’s work as your own and then charging for it).

What’s the moral here? If you are client corporation, take a second, harder look at your outside providers. If they are indeed leveraging the efficiency of large numbers of identical repetitive tasks, then no less an authority than Peter Drucker would encourage you to use such providers for those services at the lowest cost.

If, however, the third-party provider is supposed to be carrying out a custom task, but is getting paid for a sphere uniformly filled with milk, don’t expect your dairy herd to do any better after the “provider” finishes.