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
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
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
While postings have not been frequent in 2013, I have nonetheless been very busy with my IP Strategy counseling and speaking engagements. In 2014, I will commit to being much more diligent in updating my blog with relevant content for those seeking to use IP and intangible asset strategy to create and maximize business value. In the meantime, here is the deck from IP Strategy Overview I presented at a conference of innovators at Georgia Tech's College of Architecture in October 2013. The summary is below the presentation. (To view the Slideshare presentation you view the full post in IP Asset Maximizer Blog.) This deck includes the basic overview of IP (patents, copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets). However, this presentation goes beyond the usual lawyer-generated content to highlight not only the positive business aspects of IP, but also to give a reality check as to the likely ROI of investment in protection.
I recently spoke to 2 different startup entrepreneurs who explained to me that each had “a brand that needed protecting.” To each, this meant that they intended to focus their sales and marketing efforts on customers who fit image they saw as befitting their respective products. While I was intrigued by the products and the amount of work each had done to date, I am afraid to say that if these entrepreneurs stay with their present mindset that only certain customers are desirable, each will fail. Full stop. For one of these entrepreneurs whose product had already launched, brand protection meant that he was trying to dissuade “undesirable” customers: apparently truck drivers LOVED his product and it was flying off the shelves at C-stores in which the test launch was conducted. This entrepreneur perceived these sales as a huge problem because he saw his product as high end and “above” the