Do Startups Need Patents? Rigorous Study Presents Real Data on Startup Company Patenting Behavior

As an IP Strategy advisor, I am often asked by the leadership of startup companies what the return on investment is from patenting.  While I can confidently provide recommendations as an expert, my opinions are anecdotal based on my almost 20 years experience as an IP professional.  Certainly, I have advised a number of startup companies over the years for which comprehensive patent coverage was critical to financial and market success.  On the other hand, I have advised a much larger number of startup companies over the years where patenting made little difference to their fortunes. The subjective nature of IP advice holds for other patent professionals.  Our respective years of experience results in tacit knowledge that becomes “expertise.”   This expertise guides clients to us for advice and allows them to trust in our counsel.   Missing from my knowledge base–as well as that of my IP attorney peers–have been data-driven assessments of whether, when and to what extent patents really matter to start up success. Similarly, startup companies are typically inundated with the advice of peers, mentors and investors about whether patenting is recommended in a particular business situation.  Such non-specialist expertise is even more fraught with subjectivity Continue Reading →

Hey “Patent Experts”: How Do You Like Groupon’s Patent Now? *Crickets*

Yesterday’s announcement of the firing of Groupon’s CEO and the hope for a rebirth of the company’s business model brought to mind a post that I wrote a couple of years ago railing against the self-interested opinions of “patent experts” on why Google offered $6 Billion for Groupon in late 2010.  Re-reading the post in the rear-view mirror, it is more clear than ever that Google made the offer for the precise reason I set out below in December 2010: Google, and other acquirers, buy business models, not patents.  As we strategy-focused IP people have been saying for years, a patent is worthless unless it covers a viable business model–either yours or one you want to own.  Google is interested in Groupon because it offers them an established business model in an area that fits into their long term business strategy.  Are the patents nice to have? Of course, but if Groupon didn’t have the patents, Google would still want to own them, and likely for a price in the same neighborhood as it bid.  At the end of the day, the Google’s offer for Groupon was a “build vs. buy” decision:  Google ran the numbers and believed that it would make more money buying Groupon than by building something Continue Reading →

Is Traction the New IP for Startups? Maybe Not for Yours.

“Traction is the new IP.”  This emerging mantra results in many startup CEOs eschewing the traditional path of patent and other forms of IP protection.  While I am aware of no rigorous studies conducted to date, anecdotal information indicates that startup entrepreneurs are increasingly saying no to patents, and likely to other forms of IP.  Instead, these entrepreneurs first seek to validate their business models and then follow business plans focused on generating recurring revenue, often avoiding altogether the step of protecting their business idea or product with IP.  From my own interactions with startup CEO’s, I can confirm that the pendulum has swung very far to the “IP is worthless” side of things.  But, is this emerging conventional wisdom actually correct? There is no doubt that over the years far too many startup company resources have been spent on patents and other forms of IP protection (many of which were paid to me in my former life as a patent attorney).  Moreover, if we were to track the number of patents held by successful startups and those held by failed startups,  a poor correlation would certainly exist between successful exits and the presence of IP protection.  An adherent to Continue Reading →

Lean Startup Methodology: How Patenting Decisions Fit into this New Business Framework

  One of the first questions start up entrepreneurs usually ask sounds something like this:  “Is it worth the effort and expense to get a patent on this business idea?”  In countless conversations with clients in my years as a patent attorney, I could usually articulate multiple reasons why the person seeking to to start a new business venture unequivocally needed to file a patent application as soon as possible.  Moreover, I could recite a litany of ills that could follow from failing to follow my advice.   Following this conversation, I could typically expect a fat check from the client, whereupon I would dutifully draft strong patent on the subject invention.  It was a nice living. These days, I work as a startup technology company CEO and look at patents much differently than I did in the past:  as a consumer of patent services myself, I now examine patenting issues from the vantage point of an entrepreneur, not as a lawyer whose business model centers on patents.  My viewpoint has been further honed in the last year as I have become a practitioner of the Lean Startup Methodology, a startup business framework that, in short, states that if an Continue Reading →

Patents–Who Needs Them? Not Most Startup Entrepreneurs.

A recent article in TechCrunch indicates that entrepreneurs are less likely to file patents than in the past.   Nonetheless, there remain countless patent lawyers and agents who will argue convincingly that an entrepreneur must obtain a patent in order to succeed and who will take their $5-15K to file a darned good patent application that won’t provide them a bit of business value in the long run. Even worse, the resources expended in the patent process robs the entrepreneur of needed cash that will allow them to gain customers, and of their most valuable asset: time.  But when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail–which is why those still in the business of writing patent applications will continue to make their case to entrepreneurs (and investors) who lack the domain expertise to know better. Now that I no longer make money obtaining patents–instead, I am the CEO of a startup battery charging company–I understand that patents are generally a poor way for a startup company to expend scarce resources.  I rarely, if ever, recommend that my startup colleagues file for patent protection for any tech/web-based ventures. Further, when asked what they should do Continue Reading →

A Startup Company’s Experiences with Open Innovation-Part 2: Adventures of a Chief Frog Kisser

After many years of counseling small companies on how to license their technology to large companies as an IP attorney, the tables are now turned.  My new role is as CEO of a startup company with breakthrough battery charging technology available for licensing.  I am finding that many of the things I knew to be true as an expert, really aren’t true at all now that I am an entrepreneur.  This is the second post in what I hope will be an ongoing narrative that tells of my journey through the world of Open Innovation as we attempt to find one or more licensing partners for our company’s breakthrough battery fast charging technology.  (The first post is here.) One piece of advice that I knew even before embarking on this entrepreneurial journey that was absolutely not true was”build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.”  As I have written about before, ideas themselves mean little when 90 % or more of the “better mousetraps” covered by patents are worthless.  So, I knew that our technology destined to become “shelfware” unless we did something to get our name out there.  An old friend with sales experience Continue Reading →

A Startup Company’s Experiences with Open Innovation-Part 1: Dealing with a Large Company Having Small Innovation Goals

For the past several months, I have been at the helm of Evgentech, a startup company with game-changing battery charging methodology.  Our technology was developed by young men who did not come from a traditional engineering background and, even then, their discovery was a serendipitous result of the co-founders’ recognition of a new principle stemming from investigations initially directed toward something wholly different from battery charging.  Put simply, Evgentech’s technology would not have been found if anyone–outsider or not–would have been looking for it.  We are now bringing to market the first truly new battery charging paradigm in over 100 years.  To put things in perspective, with Evgentech’s technology, you will be able to charge your batteries in a fraction of the time possible with existing battery charging methodologies, which means you can charge your iPhone to “full” in as little as 20 minutes, as compared to the about 3-5 hours it takes today.  Moreover, our technology is scalable to large format batteries, as well as a wide range of battery chemistries. Not surprisingly, when companies with footprints in battery power find out about us, they are interested in finding out more.  We have recently begun preliminary discussions with a number Continue Reading →

Open Innovation Insights: 5 Biggest IP Legal Mistakes Small Companies Make When Working with Large Companies

Open Innovation guru Stefan Lindegaard recently asked me what the biggest IP legal mistakes small companies make when they are working with large companies.   This is a subject very near and dear to my heart, as I am currently “moonlighting” as GC of a start up energy company that is moving toward licensing our technology into large companies.  Also, as a senior IP lawyer at a multi-national consumer products company, I was on the other side of such deals on more occasions than I can count.  Prior to that, I was a law firm partner representing large and small corporations in patents and licensing issues, and in doing so, I now realize that I killed more deals than I ever facilitated, a situation that is more typical of law firm lawyers than it should be, unfortunately. In view of this multi-faceted experience, I present this list of the 5 most common mistakes companies make when working with large companies in Open Innovation. 1.  Thinking you have all the answers for the large company’s problems: As a small company, you often have only have a single idea or technology and you quite properly focus your attention in this direction.  This can Continue Reading →

We’re Measuring the Wrong Things: Inventiveness and Patents Do Not Equal Innovation

Few things infuriate me more than supposed experts who make statements along the lines of “patents are critical to innovation.”  I have avoided stating my views widely in this forum because I didn’t want to get into a contest of one upmanship with my patent lawyer peers.  However, in the last couple of weeks, several pieces of information have hit my radar screen that make this seem like the right time to go public with my views. Let my position be very clear:  we create a false dichotomy when saying “innovation is not possible without patents.”  The issue is much more complex and nuanced than this:  in a particular instance, patents may be critical to innovation, but they might also be only slightly important or–likely in the majority of situations–they might be wholly irrelevant to innovation.  (I talk more about this in this recent interview in Innovation Management Magazine.) Unfortunately, where you stand also depends on where you sit, and sitting behind a desk writing or examining patents may color your belief that patents are the cure for America’s innovation ills.  (The cynic would likely note that relying on a patent practitioner or the Commissioner of the US Patent Office Continue Reading →

The Disconnect Between IP Business Value and IP Legal Services and How Business Leaders Can Do a Better Job Choosing Their IP Counsel

Last week, I did what I these days rarely ever do:  live in the world of corporate and law firm IP lawyers.   I traveled to Minneapolis to speak at the Midwest IP Institute and, while there, I was treated to a baseball game in a luxury box, a high end hotel room with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, a fabulous steak dinner and various other fringe benefits that I have not seen recently.  It was clear to me that even in these trying economic times when law firms have folded and merged and lawyers have been laid off in droves from all sorts of law firms, many lawyers are still living the high life.  I must say, I was somewhat surprised, because I thought business people were getting smarter about how they spent their money these days and, as a result, would not be impressed with fancy law offices and “bling” provided by their lawyers.  And, I also thought that lawyers who saw their colleagues lose their jobs and long-standing law firms collapse would express more humility and caution in their spending habits, but apparently their “near death experiences” had little effect on the way law firms operate.  But, the more Continue Reading →