Creating a patent strategy is essential for startups. The right strategy protects your limited resources and supports your fledgling business’ potential. Using limited resources to map your startup’s IP strategy and protect your innovations may sound frivolous. However, with the right strategy now, your intellectual property will later become one of your startup’s most valuable assets.
As you draft the patent strategy for your startup, consider these tips:
1. Document Your IP Strategy
Founders may skip this step because it seems less important than inventing, hiring, accounting, and the many other tasks required to run a startup. However, mapping out a long-term intellectual property strategy sets you up for success. Your roadmap to patents should support the long-term goals of your business and protect the key features of your products. Consider competitors, both large and small, and whether you’ll need to protect your innovations internationally.
2. Consider Partnerships and Licensing Agreements
Using existing technology may also be part of your strategy. Because it’s essential to make the most of your limited resources, partnerships, licensing agreements, acquisitions, or cross-licensing may be more cost-effective than inventing a technology yourself. Partnerships may even present unique opportunities for funding and market entry. Just make sure to read all agreements carefully to protect your business.
3. Focus on Quality Over Quantity
Filing fewer high-quality patents is likely a better use of resources than attempting to protect more lower-quality innovations. To make sure the patents you file for are appropriate, thoroughly research all prior art and ensure your intellectual property is novel. The patents you file for should also support your overall patent strategy and be fairly easy to monitor for infringement.
When choosing which patents to prioritize, consider what each innovation does for your target audience. Patents on inventions that solve real problems for people and companies are more valuable for your startup. As patent attorney John Ferrell puts it, “To build a true monopoly and to protect the unique experience that keeps customers engaged, it’s essential to start with an IP monopoly roadmap of where you are going and a strategy of how you will get there.”
4. Play to Your Strengths as a Startup
As a startup with limited resources, you’re competing with well-funded researchers at large corporations. This may feel like a disadvantage, but your patent strategy can play to your unique strengths. Startups are, by definition, more willing to take risks. Consider how you can innovate in ways that risk-averse organizations will not. As a smaller business with fewer stakeholders, you are also more agile. Your intellectual property strategy can more quickly adapt to a changing market.
5. Ensure You Own Your IP
In the first weeks, months, and even years of your startup, the lines between business and individuals may be blurry. To avoid hiccups in the future, make sure your company holds the rights to any intellectual property you may want to monetize moving forward. You may also need to investigate whether your previous employers, casual brainstorm partners, or funders have any rights to your inventions.