Why the IP Law Firm Business Model is Broken And What I Am Doing About It

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 and maintain a business model where the product offered is obtaining patents for clients.  However, over the years I discovered that often the client does not need the very product that sustains the IP law firm business model.  What I perceived as an inherent conflict between my business interests 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 →

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 →

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 →

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 →

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 the vantage point of an entrepreneur, not as a lawyer whose business model centers on patents.  My viewpoint has been further honed in the last year as I have become a practitioner of the Lean Startup Methodology, a startup business framework that, in short, states that if an 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 →

Google Changes the Game Again–This Time for Patent Owners and Those Who Serve Them

Patrick Anderson of the great Gametime IP blog reported the details of Google’s new prior art searching tool*.   This is such important news, I thought it important to repeat it in a separate post.  Patrick provides detailed instructions for how to use the Google patent searching tool, and I will not repeat that information here.  This post provides commentary on why I think this is a very good development for the patent world.   Google’s original announcement on its blog is here.  It does not appear coincidental that Google is upgrading its patent searching capabilities:  in this press release from June 2010 we are informed of the partnership between Google and the USPTO to increase the amount of US patent information available to the public. When used correctly, Google’s tool can help “democratize” the patent analysis process by putting more power in the hands of those who are not part of the closed “guild” of patent professionals.  For example, before spending money on a search (and the opinion that most patent professionals will insist on writing to put context to the search), an inventor can herself get a feel for not just the patentability of her invention, but also Continue Reading →