Potential clients frequently ask if they can successfully sell or license their patents; unfortunately, the answer is, far more often than not, “no.” Be it a cultural construct of “inventor exceptionalism,” repeated viewing of late-night infomercials by folks who like to tinker, or lazy journalism that elevates human interest stories about successful inventors over a deep explanation of the realities of generating business success, there exists a belief that “if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door.” The truth is that the only person who is guaranteed to make money from a patent is the patent professional that the client hires to get the work done for them. This topic is on my mind because I had to, once again, give bad news to someone who was expecting to monetize his patent rights that he believed
Introduction As someone who works with a wide variety of startups and small companies as the in-house expert interfacing between outside patent lawyers, I have found it helpful to compare and contrast the various legal practice styles encountered, at least because I strive to continuously improve the IP strategy consulting services that I provide my clients. Recently, I have noted that there often appears to be a profound lack of alignment between the desired outcomes that my clients seek from their patent efforts and the business models of many of the lawyers we encounter. These lawyers seek to engage clients like mine, but often they are not able to provide the value we are seeking. Since I have been thinking a lot about this topic lately, I decided to write about my experiences because others may appreciate the context that I can bring
When seeking information about patents, clients often ask their business lawyers or their personal friends for referrals. However, just knowing a patent lawyer personally or by reputation should not be the reason that a referral to a lawyer is made—even if the person making the referral has a law degree. Patents can be critical for business success and, for some clients, specialized expertise is required to ensure the right result is obtained. In this regard, many clients need not just a patent, but a patent that creates business value for their company. Notably, this objective requires a keen business insight, something that is not in the wheelhouse of many otherwise competent patent practitioners. There are questions that a non-specialist can ask before she makes a referral to help her clients and friends meet their patent goals.
As an IP
Several of my current clients are startup companies that understand that, to have real value, their patents must be seen by a third party as meaningful to the opportunity--be it customers, revenue stream, or any other business strategy--that this potential potential partner, licensor, or acquirer seeks to access. Put another way, patents generated by early stage companies that are developing innovative technology must “make it cheaper to go through them than around them.” For these types of patent owners, due diligence conducted by third parties is more than just “kicking the tires” of the patent portfolio; instead, their patents will be examined by an expert team to make sure they won’t "break" just when they’re needed most. As an initial aspect of this discussion, it should be stressed that not all patents are equal in value. Some patents--and, in my view, this is the
We all know the patent application process can cost $20,000 or more — and often much more. This alone should give those of us who obtain patents reason to pause and consider how we can and should do better relative to generating patent strategies for clients. Some of my peers will say that patent protection has more hurdles to overcome and requirements to meet today than in years past, and this contributes to the high cost. Certainly, this is true, but merely shrugging our shoulders and saying something akin to “I’m doing the best I can under the circumstances” is not a satisfactory option for clients who are relying on patent protection to enhance the value of their businesses. Instead, it is necessary to try something other than status quo patent strategies with a goal of getting better results for our clients.
Patent professionals can do a better job providing patentability review, or "opinion," services for innovators. As most readers would recognize, a patentability review assesses whether the invention to be claimed will meet the legal requirements for patentability. In the US, this entails an assessment by a patent attorney, which can be based on a formal or informal search, whether the client’s invention is novel and non-obvious over the prior art. The rules by which a patent attorney makes a determination of patentability are well-established and would not be considered controversial by most experienced practitioners. Nonetheless, as an IP Strategist who works exclusively with clients engaged in developing and delivering meaningful innovations to consumers, I know that these entrenched patentability assessment practices deserve retooling for those clients who can be classified as "innovators." To this end, I believe that the way the patent
For the past 12 years as an IP Strategist, I’ve worked exclusively with clients engaged in developing and delivering innovative products to consumers. From this unique vantage-point, I think it’s time for some entrenched patentability assessment practices to be retooled for innovators. I’ve come to this conclusion because many of the ingrained patent application development processes in my profession consistently fail to properly address the non-standard nature of innovators’ products and technology when assessing the scope of patent protection that can, and should, be recommended to help these risk-takers extract maximum value from their efforts.
An example of how strategic IP-thinking differs from that of traditional patent attorney processes is that I believe the unique nature of an innovative product or technology itself should serve as the focal point of any patent protection strategy. Presumably, the identification of an unmet need in the market
Achieving meaningful revenue through licensing by startup entrepreneurs can be for all intents and purposes a “unicorn event:” much discussed, but rarely achieved. Notwithstanding this reality, a significant number of startup entrepreneurs who seek to engage me for IP Strategy and patent development consulting assert confidently that their necessity for a patent is based on a business strategy of licensing (or selling) their protected product or technology to an established company. This is not surprising because it is embedded in the DNA of much of society that “if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door.” Late night infomercials featuring famous people and entrepreneur “hero stories” in the press also bolster this conviction. It is certainly heartwarming and inspiring to believe that an "Average Josephine" can become rich solely on
The traditional patent model is configured to generate protection for an already completed invention. This, by definition, is a backward-looking approach and begs the question of why people are protecting what they have done in the past, when patents are supposed to be about protecting their future. Because strategy is about defining a desired outcome and working backward, an IP Strategist like me necessarily works with clients to identify why they are seeking patent protection in the first place. Only then do we develop a plan to achieve that business goal.
Experience shows that such forward-thinking strategies help innovators stay one step ahead of competitors by enhancing their ability to protect future revenue streams that are expected to occur with the introduction of innovative new products. When developing new products that customers will pay for in significant volumes, these innovators must “make it cheaper to go through them then around them. To do this requires a