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
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
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
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
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"
(NOTE: At the end of this post is a detailed spreadsheet that lists the free and low cost tools that I use regularly in my IP strategy practice. At the request of a group of IP strategy professionals with whom I network, I will be giving a presentation on these tools at a local event. I thought that readers of this blog would also appreciate learning about how these tools can add high value at a low to minimal cost.) In private conversations, some of my corporate peers inform me that they pay $1000's per year (or even per quarter for larger companies) for access to "name brand" patent search tools that nonetheless do not contain accurate and up to date information. For example, a client tells me that one of these expensive tools fails to update USPTO records on
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