Patent Early? Maybe Not

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 clients over my almost 20 years in the IP world have made money for their inventors. In my current role as an IP Strategist, I frequently counsel entrepreneurs that, prior to writing a $8-25K check to a patent attorney, they should instead first undertake customer discovery to determine whether anyone even cares about the awesome new product for which their attorney recommends they obtain patent protection. It’s one thing for me to counsel entrepreneurs 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 →

Presentation: IP and Patent Strategy for Business Value Creation–The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

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.) [slideshare id=29609113&doc=huttergoodbaduglyipstrategypresentationoctober2013-140101073032-phpapp02] 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.  Additionally, commonly overlooked forms of intangible asset business value are highlighted.  A case study of a poorly designed and executed IP protection strategy where a significant (and arguably disruptive) innovation is highlighted. Recommendations for business relevant IP and patent protection strategies to create and maximize business value Continue Reading →

Free and Low Cost Patent Search and Analysis Tools: Who Needs Expensive Name Brand Products?

(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 a portfolio her company is monitoring and that the PAIR data is more than 1 year out of date.  This limits the effectiveness of the expensive database by requiring her IP support staff to check each individual record on a regular basis to update the data.  Of course, this limitation defeats the purpose of spending the big bucks to engage Continue Reading →

A Branding Lesson for the Lean Startup Entrepreneur

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 truck driver market.  Indeed, in its marketing collateral and packaging the product was presented as high quality and upscale.  When placed in front of customers, however, it was apparent that the upscale buyer to whom the product was directed showed little interest, but that less affluent consumers—here truck drivers—found Continue Reading →

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, but if Groupon didn’t have the patents, Google would still want to own them, and likely for a price in the same neighborhood as it bid.  At the end of the day, the Google’s offer for Groupon was a “build vs. buy” decision:  Google ran the numbers and believed that it would make more money buying Groupon than by building something Continue Reading →

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 which were paid to me in my former life as a patent attorney).  Moreover, if we were to track the number of patents held by successful startups and those held by failed startups,  a poor correlation would certainly exist between successful exits and the presence of IP protection.  An adherent to Continue Reading →

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 Lean Startup Methodology understand that decisions must be driven by validated data, not beliefs or opinions.  It would be great if a source of data existed that could illuminate whether and in what circumstances patents matter to new business ventures.  Unfortunately, little information exists regarding the return on investment businesses of any size typically can observe from investment in patents.  There Continue Reading →

The Apple vs. Samsung Verdict Actually Demonstrates that Patents Do Promote Product Innovation

In the time that the Apple vs. Samsung patent fight has been underway, we have been inundated with an untold number of articles on how Apple is stifling innovation in the SmartPhone world.  (Haven’t seen these:  just do a Google search for “Apple stif . . .” you don’t have to type any more than this–the search auto-completes itself.) I often take a contrarian view from that stated by most “expert” commentators–be they members of the press or actual patent professionals, and the Apple v. Samsung verdict is no exception:  I think the result actually demonstrates that the patent system is working just fine in this instance, thank you very much.  But how can this be when Samsung got hit with more than a BILLION US DOLLAR jury verdict last week?!?  Doesn’t the fact that Samsung could not make a product without infringing Apple’s multitude of patents mean that Samsung is effectively prevented from competing with Apple in the Smartphone market? Not necessarily, as is shown by this great post from The Verge entitled:  “How Android has evolved while steering clear of Apple’s designs”.  What is most interesting to me about this article is how we see that while making Continue Reading →