Strategic Patenting: How To Get it Right (Guest Post)

This article, by Francis Hagel, first appeared in Intellectual Property Magazine. It provides strong guidance, in checklist form, for those seeking to beat the odds that the patents they obtain will actually generate strategic value. Mr. Hagel is an IP strategy advisor from France. The article is reproduced with permission. “Suggestions for strategic drafting of patent applications” In the drafting of a patent application, a practitioner starts from a blank page[i]. He/she enjoys the greatest freedom for shaping its content on the basis of the information at hand concerning the invention, its context and the prior art of interest, within the constraints set forth by patent law in the country of filing, keeping in mind the specifics of patent law in the major markets for the invention. This freedom applies to all parts of the application : definition of the technical field, description of the prior art, statement of purposes, description of embodiments and results, claims. There are thus myriad decisions to be made.  Based on the understanding of the applicant’s objectives,  the practitioner can  ensure such decisions are in tune with these objectives. This is what can be called a strategic approach to the drafting of a patent application. Continue Reading →

Strategic Patenting Part 3: Why (Almost) Every Innovator Fails to Maximize Patent Value

The Take Away:  Those seeking to generate market-making patent coverage for new innovations must recognize that patent coverage should focus not on how the problem is solved but instead on the benefits provided to the customer.  Most patent coverage is directed to a specific solution to a customer need that is characterized in the form of an invention.  Patents that cover only one solution to a broad customer need will permit competitors to solve the same customer need with a non-infringing substitute product, thus leaving the patent holder with no legal recourse against their competitor.  On the other hand, market-making patent coverage focuses on the benefits provided to the customer, which means that competitors cannot sell the same benefit.  Accordingly, patent coverage that emphasizes benefits over features will make it more difficult for competitors to provide the same solution to the customer.  Innovators must heed this warning or they will end up being one of the many examples of companies that innovated to successfully solve a consumer need but that did not successfully prevent others from competing in the same market. The Long Story:  As I discussed in a previous post in this multi-part series on Strategic Patenting, those of us Continue Reading →

Strategic Patenting Part 2: It’s Not Your Patent Attorney’s Job to Get it Right

From the last post, we see that it is very rare for patents to create value for their owners.  Moreover, if the “big guys” with pockets deep enough to hire the best lawyers can get it right only 5% of the time, there should be no doubt that smaller companies and individuals should re-examine the advice they are getting from their IP counsel.  This is not to say that smaller companies and individuals cannot be successful in creating market-defining patent protection.  To the contrary, it is my strong belief that small companies can create solid patent protection at a reasonable cost, but to do so will likely require patentees to recognize that their IP counsel likely has no clue how to do what you need done.  And, even if she does, it is not her job to make you money from your patents.  Instead, her only job is to get you a patent.  Period.  End of story. Smaller organizations or individuals should not assume that that your attorney does not have your best interests in mind when doing patent work on your behalf.  Certainly, the vast majority of patent attorneys are ethical and have their client’s best interests at heart. Continue Reading →

Strategic Patenting Part 1: Why So Few Patents Create Real Value

Many business people are surprised to find out that all patents are not created equal.  A recent study of Fortune 500 companies reported in Suzanne Harrison’s Edison in the Boardroom Revisited indicates that only a very small number of patents–namely, 5%– obtained by these top patent filers created strategic value for their owners.  If only 5% of the most sophisticated companies, all of which have veritable armies of patent professionals on their teams, can get patent protection right, it must follow that less resource-rich companies have an even lower probability of gaining strategically valuable patent protection.  This and the next few blog posts will aim to help improve the odds for business people seeking to learn how to generate more valuable patents. The first issue to clear up is what “strategic patenting” means.  Those of us in the IP Strategy business define a “strategic patent” as one that is “market making.”  In other words, a “strategic patent” is one that effectively prevents a competitor not only from making the same product, but also from playing in the same market space.  When a company holds a strategic patent, the competitor must expend efforts to innovate around the incumbent patent owner, which is, at a minimum, Continue Reading →

Why the IP Law Firm Business Model is Broken And What I Am Doing About It

As a former IP law firm shareholder and senior corporate lawyer, I know all too well the expense required to start and maintain an IP law practice.  Not only are IP lawyers of all levels of experience paid handsomely, but so are the highly skilled paralegals, docket clerks and administrative professionals traditionally required create the infrastructure needed to handle the myriad of details involved in an IP law practice.  Of course, this expensive infrastructure must be sustaining, so while a lawyer serves today’s clients, her eye must also be on finding the next client because payroll and rent obligations don’t take a holiday when clients do. This “feed the beast” nature of the IP law practice model was a primary reason that I decided several years ago that I would not again work in the traditional practice of law.  How could I?  The standard legal service framework required me to build and maintain a business model where the product offered is obtaining patents for clients.  However, over the years I discovered that often the client does not need the very product that sustains the IP law firm business model.  What I perceived as an inherent conflict between my business interests Continue Reading →

Do Patents Matter? Lean Startups Should Ignore Expert Advice and Let Their Data Drive Patenting Decisions

Many hold strong opinions on the value of patents to business.  Both in person and online, there are any number of “experts” who stridently insist that without patent protection, a company’s business goals are doomed.  With about 350,000 new patent applications filed in 2012, there is no question that many agree that patents create, and are even critical to, business value.  But, as the 2012 US presidential election cycle demonstrated, actual data can illuminate how expensive experts are often flat out wrong.  So where’s the “real data” that will allow business people to know whether a patent is the right decision for their company?   This information is likely even more critical for startup entrepreneurs, most of whom have no choice but to rely on self-interested expert opinion regarding the value of patents to their business. Entrepreneurs who follow Lean Startup Methodology understand that decisions must be driven by validated data, not beliefs or opinions.  It would be great if a source of data existed that could illuminate whether and in what circumstances patents matter to new business ventures.  Unfortunately, little information exists regarding the return on investment businesses of any size typically can observe from investment in patents.  There 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 →

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 →

False Marking Lawsuits are Real Problem for Business and Make Little Sense When Applied to Expired Patents

The threat of false marking lawsuits has garnered much attention in the IP business press in the last couple of years.  Companies of all sizes have been hit with qui tam actions (that is, suits brought by an individual or company on behalf of the US government to right wrongs done to the government, not the individual) where the basis of the action is the mis-marking of a product with an incorrect or expired patent number.  Like a gold rush, these lawsuits have resulted in a number of legal entrepreneurs seeking out products that are incorrectly marked–usually by identification of expired patents, which is an easy thing to find–and their bringing suit against the offending companies.  Indeed, there were over 500 false marking lawsuits filed in 2010, making this cause of action seem almost like a way for un- or under-employed patent lawyers to generate income after the rash of layoffs and firm closings in the last few years. For patent lawyers representing corporations, false marking cases may seem like a pain for clients, but something which nonetheless leads to business if a suit is brought against his client.  But, in reality, the uncertainty raised by the current rash of Continue Reading →

Clients Save Money and Get Better Patents When Attorneys Use This Solution

As a “recovering patent lawyer,” I now realize that I wasted a whole lot of my clients’ money over the years because of the inherent inefficiencies that have been built into patent practice.  In this regard, I wrote about the money wasted by old fashioned patent filing systems in this post a while back, a fact which I think dictates that clients insist that their lawyers adopt electronic filing systems.  I have also written about the money wasted as a result of the inability of many clients to judge the value provided by their patent lawyers, which I believe is a result of information asymmetry. Another waste of money comes from the time needed to review patent filings during the drafting process.  The highly technical nature of patent application and claim drafting requires detailed review of an application on multiple occasions prior to filing.  Each review requires the time of the drafting attorney, who is often backed up by an attorney with an even higher billing rate, and the client pays for this time.   What the attorney is looking for in these reviews typically involves “fly specking” the application for insertions or omissions that could affect the scope and validity Continue Reading →