This weekend I met with a group of inventors that I host every month at the Innovation Center.
Eventually, the discussion turned to patents and intellectual property. A few participants seemed enormously concerned with protecting their property – making sure that patent applications had been filed before talking with anybody about anything. One assumed that I felt the same, and while telling a newbie that he should first get a patent application filed, he said, “And Steve will tell you to get that going right away, too.”
Well, for some of the entrepreneurs I’ve worked with, like those in the orthopedic field, a granted patent is key to an exit strategy. But, generally I DON’T agree that a patent application should be a staple in an entrepreneur’s plan, and I told them so. Here’s why.
For most everyday entrepreneurs, there are five reasons why a patent application may not make sense.
- The likelihood of your idea being novel enough to result in some granted claims is slim. I know – I just called your baby ugly. But, face facts – you can have a great business concept that will make all sorts of money, and not be novel enough to warrant a patent claim.
- It costs money to find out if you can be granted a patent, money that at the early stage of a business is better spent on getting a product finished and ready to sell or talking with customers. A good patent attorney can save you from filing for something that is clearly not novel – but his incentive is to make money and help you file something (for a fee).
- The same patent attorney that can help you file most likely also devotes part of his practice to helping people design around existing patents. So the value of the patent you may some day receive may not be as great as you thought.
- Time is not on your side. A patent application will take years to prosecute. I’m hoping that you want to be to market WELL before that. Why would you take time (and money, remember) from that process? In the software, web, mobile, and computer technology fields, technology generations can turn over multiple times before you receive your grant.
- OK, let’s say that you do receive your patent. And then some large corporation violates it (in your opinion, that is). Do you have the funds to prosecute the violation? Is your market (and net profit) large enough to warrant a long, costly lawsuit?
So, am I trying to be Mr. Doom and Gloom here? Of course not. I just want you to key on what is important – developing your product, talking with your customers, and gaining traction.