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Startup Patent Licensing: Beating the Long Odds

Achieving meaningful revenue through licensing by startup entrepreneurs can be for all intents and purposes a “unicorn event:” much discussed, but rarely achieved. Notwithstanding this reality, a significant number of startup entrepreneurs who seek to engage me for IP Strategy and patent development consulting assert confidently that their necessity for a patent is based on a business strategy of licensing (or selling) their protected product or technology to an established company. This is not surprising because it is embedded in the DNA of much of society that “if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door.” Late night infomercials featuring famous people and entrepreneur “hero stories” in the press also bolster this conviction. It is certainly heartwarming and inspiring to believe that an "Average Josephine" can become rich solely on the basis of their patented idea. But, the truth is that few

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Startup Patent Strategy: US Patent Non-Publication

The TakeawayFor startups whose development efforts lag behind a looming US utility application filing deadline, use of the “Request for Non-Publication” in US patent filing can allow them to preserve the option of shoring up their patent protection for an extended period in the future, while still retaining the priority date of a provisional application filing. This can be valuable for startups that are still fleshing out their product/market fit in customer discovery, but that also have incorporated still relevant technical and functional subject matter in their provisional application. As people even modestly familiar with patents are aware, the filing of a provisional patent application requires followup with a US or PCT utility application that “perfects,” the earlier application no later than one year from that filing date. When the covered technology is fairly well-developed

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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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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,

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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

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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

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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