When the owner of a company embarks on the path toward intellectual property protection, their mindset tends to focus solely on the idea itself, not with the possibilities that might lie beyond it. However, the value of a patent only starts with the idea, but can evolve into much more, protecting a company’s market well into the future. By understanding the patent landscape and focusing on quality ensures a more comprehensive IP protection strategy.
Predict the Future
A patent lasts for 20 years and should be drafted with all of those years in mind, not just the first few, which is a common approach. A skilled patent attorney will attempt to flesh out alternatives or work-arounds to draft a higher quality, more reliable and more often infringed asset. However, the best person to guide this conversation is the inventor or entrepreneur and industry expert.
For example, what product features might be present in future generations? By including these next-generation features, the relevancy of a patent can extend far into the future, thereby increasing both the short- and long-term value of the asset. Keep in mind that filing a patent doesn’t require building the features into the project or providing proof that they work as intended. Rather, simply conceiving the way to achieve these goals means they are likely patentable.
Understand the Patent Landscape
In addition to predicting what the future might hold, it is also important to understand the patent landscape: to identify patents, patent applications and products that exist within the same product space or technical field. This is more than a prior “art search,” taking into consideration actual products not just patents.
Once other assets within the technical field are identified, it is often possible to determine the direction of the industry, isolate concepts overlooked by the competitors, pinpoint future products or features that may be key to the industry, as well as differentials and advantages provided by the idea.
By including and highlighting the overlooked concepts, the future product features and differentials associated with the idea, the overall value of the patent increases as the asset is more likely to interfere with the competition.
Plan for a Portfolio
With today’s emphasis on owning quality and reliable assets, there is a growing stigma against patent piling, or the collecting of large pools of asset. This is an acceptable practice for large corporations that own hundreds of patents, with each new asset providing only marginal returns on investment. For the small- to mid-size business that may only own a few patents, creating a portfolio of two or more patents around a product or product line can have a multiplier effect on the value of each individual asset.
For example, it is often more cost-effective for competitors to attempt to invalidate a single patent than to enter a license negotiation. However, when multiple assets are brought to bear the scale often swings in the favor of a license agreement.
Thus, it is important to keep in mind that regardless of the overall budget, a skilled patent attorney can assist a business in planning a comprehensive portfolio before even a single patent is filed.
Quality Does Matter
With these considerations in mind, a skilled IP attorney can draft a patent that has a deeper and broader understanding of the original idea and the assets that surround and influence it, as well as the potential to grow into a portfolio and a more effective licensing tool.
A “quality” patent means a more dependable asset with greater value to investors, competitors, partners—and most importantly, at least in the startup world—potential purchasers.
Andrew Eisenberg is a Partner and Patent Attorney with the Austin office of Lee & Hayes.
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