So you have a great idea, product or service and you want to prevent your competitors from copying your hard work, what should you do ?
The simple answer is write a patent, but that is a tactical solution. Strategy relates to the general question of what is your business, how do you make money, and what do your customers, partners and competitors do. To protect yourself, you must take into account the eco system that surrounds you. Often the most important patents do not protect your technology, but rather the enabled application space your technology opens up. As Einstein said, ” we are able to see far because we stand on the shoulders of giants”. When you have a unique invention, you have a new view point on the world and the applications it enables. This application space is central to protecting your IP. You enable it to your customers by implying a license to use in your products, but shut out the competitors. Even if they solve the problem and bypass your patents, they can’t sell to your customers without your customers infringing on your IP in their products.
So the IP strategy and subsequent patent generation should be as broad and far reaching as possible. This implies first and foremost educating your people about the importance of patents, and empowering their creativity not only in resolving their technical challenges, but also in thinking about the challenges and applications of their customers. The second aspect, which has additional corporate wide benefits is having IP strategy meetings where IP scoping occurs with members from research, development, engineering, manufacturing, marketing and sales, all meet. These meetings are not about budgets, deadlines, or angry customers. They are about empowering people to be creative. In a way, this is brainstorming, but without budget axe to chop off ideas, but rather a seed and sow system where ideas are polled to create an evolving IP protection suite.
While many companies have some patent strategy in place, and motivate people to invent, there is an inherent setback in most patent motivation systems, which renders companies with less valuable patents. The most common approach for patent write up is to first define the dream set of claims and then enable them with a description. Even if a brain storming session takes place, the goal is typically to get a good claim set or sets. From this point on wards, no one has an incentive to add to the description beyond the claim set. However, in the life of the patent, it is not the claims which create the value, but rather the description. Claims change over time, either in response to examiner’s questions or as part of continuation activity. The description on the other hand, and more importantly, the associated filing date are set in stone. Hence a valuable patent would have a broad, extensive, well enabled base which will support not only the existing claim set, but also future ones. However neither the inventor, nor the patent attorney have any incentive to writeup such a description, and they typically want to finish the patent as quickly as possible and let the inventor get back to ‘work’. But actually, its in the description where the inventor should devote his time and creativity. Furthermore, once a patent is submitted, there is typically no formal involvement or defined strategy for continuations and enhancements, while it is these actions which typically hold most value and provide benefit and update to the patent as the product scope evolves over time