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 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 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 →

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 →

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 →

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 →