Who Needs a Patent?

My response to the question posed in the title of this post is typically: “the only person who needs a patent is a patent attorney.” Indeed, if a patent attorney fails to convince clients like you that they need to obtain a patent, she will quickly lose her livelihood. You should therefore be skeptical if a patent attorney recommends that you move forward with a patent without also advising you to first fully evaluate your business model, your go-to-market strategy and the competitive landscape and determining along with you how the available patent protection may allow you to realize your company’s revenue and exit goals. This is not to say that patents are never the right thing or even often the right thing for entrepreneurs. To the contrary, examples abound for companies where patents served as a primary means of value creation. Studies nonetheless show that only a small percentage of patents become valuable business assets, even when the filers are sophisticated companies with large patent portfolios that retain expert internal staffs to manage their IP strategies. This reveals that most companies miss the mark when it comes to protecting their innovations using patents. Moreover, early stage companies pay 3 times or more for patents than Continue Reading →

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 →

Software Patent Apocalypse?

The data coming out of the district courts and the USPTO make it fairly apparent that the “Software Patent Apocalypse” may be here, at least for the foreseeable future. This result has been widely predicted since the US Supreme Court decided Alice Corp. Pty. Ltd. v. CLS Bank International earlier in 2014, but facts now are coming out to demonstrate that the next few years will be tough for those who seek to obtain patent protection for inventions that fall into the realm of software. We saw initial data from the district courts a couple of months ago when Timothy Lee of Vox.com presented data showing that a number of software patents had been found invalid as failing to claim patentable subject matter (a “Section 101 rejection” to us patent types) under the Alice rationale in the few months after the decision. Lee’s take: [T]he courts are sending a pretty clear message: you can’t take a commonplace human activity, do it with a computer, and call that a patentable invention. Traditionally, patents making it to district court have not usually been open to attack on subject matter grounds. It was therefore somewhat surprising that after all the time and effort spent by the parties to get Continue Reading →

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 15 years. The Long Story:  In a previous blog post in this multi-part Strategic Patenting Series, I explained how the vast majority of innovators fail to maximize the full scope of the value proposition of their innovations in the marketplace.  In short, the missing piece in most patenting efforts is 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 →

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 →

IP and Intangible Asset Strategy: The Easy to Deploy, Not-So-Secret Weapon for Capturing Business Value

IP and intangible asset strategies are a critical feature of ALL businesses regardless of size, product or customer.  But why?  Put simply, leaders need to be comfortable that their companies have the mechanisms in place to capture the value that you see possible from the venture.  Without foresight and action, other businesses will be able to capitalize on the first/early mover’s advantage. This happens often when a US company develops a new product, as well as the market for the product, and ex-US companies come in with a lower priced product to take the market away from the first mover.  I have also seen customers (that is, big box or other consumer facing retailers) actually instigate the knock-offs:  when the first mover demonstrates that a market exists for a product, the retailer will reach out to an Asian manufacturer to create a private label product with the same consumer benefits as that of the innovator’s product.  The retailer is motivated to do this because it can gather all of the profit margin associated with a successful product, instead of having to share the proceeds with its supplier.  If the innovator does not have some form of legally enforceable protection, such action is Continue Reading →

Enhancing Innovation ROI by Adding Patents at the Front End: Some Resources

A new client has asked for some information on how consideration patents and IP at the front end of the innovation/product development process can enhance business value.  Readers of this blog might find this material informative, also. This is a published article from Innovation Management article entitled “How to Improve Innovation ROI with Early Stage Patent Expertise.”  In this article, I discuss how IP can help orient innovation teams in a direction that can enhance value capture.  Practical steps to implement such a program into innovation processes is included in this article. Here is a YouTube video that explains my process simply.  In short, including IP at the front end of a company’s innovation process allows one to enhance their calibration with respect to the IP rights of others to better ensure that they will achieve the desired ROI on innovation investment. This blog post describes how a large company failed to capture the full value of its deep investment in a new product innovation.  These folks (the name has been changed to protect the not-so-innocent) failed to grasp that their innovation was not a product, but a customer solution.  This first-to-market Fortune company did not understand that the customer Continue Reading →