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Patent Lawyer Practice Models that Work and Don’t Work for Startups and Small Companies

Introduction As someone who works with a wide variety of startups and small companies as the in-house expert interfacing between outside patent lawyers, I have found it helpful to compare and contrast the various legal practice styles encountered, at least because I strive to continuously improve the IP strategy consulting services that I provide my clients. Recently, I have noted that there often appears to be a profound lack of alignment between the desired outcomes that my clients seek from their patent efforts and the business models of many of the lawyers we encounter. These lawyers seek to engage clients like mine, but often they are not able to provide the value we are seeking. Since I have been thinking a lot about this topic lately, I decided to write about my experiences because others may appreciate the context that I can bring

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UPDATE: Lack of Patent Strategic Focus Results in $100’s Millions in Lost Value

invalid patentLast week, an en banc Federal Circuit (that is, the majority of the sitting judges, not just the usual three judge panel), rendered a decision that saved the patent that keeps the ANGIOMAX(R) product from generic competition. In short, the Federal Circuit saved this successful blood thinner medicine from generic competition and, in so doing, saved the proverbial "bacon" of The Medicines Company. Since I wrote about this case about a year ago when the ANGIOMAX patent was invalidated by a three judge Federal Circuit panel for violating the US "on sale bar," I thought it prudent to update the post with this new information. The purpose of this post is not to summarize the new "on sale bar" rule. Many law firms and commentators have already done so. A good summary can be found here. In short, the law

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Lack of Focus on IP Strategy Destroys $100 Millions in Value

invalid patentAs an IP Strategist, I am fascinated by stories from which declining business fortunes can be traced directly to failed patent strategies. Often, the failures can be traced to patent attorney errors that limit the effectiveness of a company's patent to prevent competitive knock-offs, but, often, the problems can be traced to the lack of accountability for IP strategy within an organization. For those companies where IP is a primary driver of competitive advantage, the absence of someone who "owns" the job of making sure IP is properly captured and protected can result in unrecoverable errors that opens the innovator to unwelcome competition. In this regard, the recent loss of patent protection to a popular drug product should serve as a useful case study on why the C-suites of innovative companies should consider strategic in-house IP counseling to be a

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Failure to Generate REAL Patent Protection: Keurig’s Story (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this "Failure to Create REAL Patent Value: Keurig's Story," I asserted that the company's current business woes can be directly attributable to a flawed patent strategy. To summarize, as a result of the Keurig Green Mountain's failure to obtain durable patent rights on its coffee pods, there has been a proliferation of lower cost generic pods. Because these generic pods sell for about 40% less than the branded "K-Cup" pods, Keurig Green Mountain has and will continue to lose substantial revenue due to this increased competition, even while its coffee maker innovation remains wildly popular with consumers. The question then becomes how did the company fail to fully capitalize on the value its disruptive innovation created in the marketplace? One can see what went wrong with Keurig Green Mountain's patent strategy by starting with the litigation record in which

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How Startup Patent Filing is Different

The prevailing view of patent experts who advise innovators--be they individuals or companies--it that patent filings should occur as early as possible. This advice, which is even more prevalent now that the US has moved to a "first to file" system, exacerbates the significant problem of worthless patents that I have written about previously. To summarize, by "worthless," I mean that the innovator's patents will not cover anything that consumers desire to buy. Logic thus dictates that patents will be irrelevant to the startup, as well as expensive wastes of time, unless protection aligns with a validated customer demand for the innovator's product or technology. This is where a key difference falls out between the patent filing strategies for established companies and startups where each is developing innovative products or technology. The former already have products in the market and customers that

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Patent Early? Maybe Not

Ask the right business questions to succeed from a position of lesser bargaining power

Patent lawyers almost always instruct inventors to file for patent protection at the earliest possible date, but maybe this is not the best advice for many startups. To the contrary, I think this conventional advice is flawed--at least when it applies to inventions involving unproven products with no known customer base. Put simply, unless customers show that they care about the product that will be covered by the patent such that they are willing to pay more than it costs to make the product in volumes that will lead to sustainable profits, the patent will provide value only for the attorney who files it. Indeed, the absence of customers who wanted to buy the product is why very few of the patents that I have obtained for

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Strategic Patenting 4: A Case Study of Success

The Takeaway:  In the 4th post in this Strategic Patenting Series, a case study is presented of a company that created durable market-making patent protection for a successful consumer product innovation using a disciplined patenting strategy. The strategic patenting efforts of Procter & Gamble undertook with its market-leading Swiffer Wet Jet® floor cleaning system allowed the company to create strong protection of the function of the basic product. This, in turn, resulted in protection of the underlying consumer benefits provided by this innovative floor cleaning system, a fact that allowed the company to prevent functional aspects of its system from being included in knock-off products.  Moveover, P&G leveraged its ongoing consumer insights to continue to grow its patent portfolio.  In short, the company's successful strategic patenting efforts have "made it cheaper to go through them than around them," thus contributing to its market leadership for this innovation for the past

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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

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

not my jobFrom 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

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

value_introMany 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"