Protecting a Product With Patents

Most companies get patent protection to protect a product. 

This is the first line of defense and is the most simplistic manner to use patents.  In this case, the business interest is two fold.  The primary goal is to prevent competitors from directly infringing the product going out the door and the secondary goal is to set up a defensive perimeter that will protect as many product generations as possible.

Patents in this category tend to define the product in a lot of detail, with as many options and variations of the product as possible. The claims are drafted by picking out the most important business-related features of the product. Often, several independent claims may be needed to cover all the possible variations of the product that, from a business standpoint, we wish to prevent from entering the marketplace.

The claims need to focus on the “business-related” features of the product.  This means finding those aspects of the product that give the company a competitive advantage.  It may be something that adds functionality to the product, something that reduces the cost, or a distinctive feature that would be difficult to design around.

The “business-related” features can be evaluated in economic terms.  An invention that justifies a higher asking price, one that reduces the production cost by a certain amount, or one where the costs to design around are quantifiable, can be quantified in dollars and cents.  When this type of economic analysis is possible, we have a good estimate of the relative value of the invention.

When writing these types of patents, the discussion with the inventor and business manager include competitor’s products, what the next generation or two of the existing product will include, and which features of the existing product give it a competitive edge. We start with the competitive advantage of the client’s products as compared to the competitor’s products, then map the future upgrades or changes to the product, and envision how the competitors will respond, all the while focusing on protecting the client’s core competencies and strengths.

Often, the timeframe envisioned for these types of patents are two or three product cycles. Because the products may evolve significantly over time, the business manager must understand that a majority of the patent protection will be in the initial two product cycles and may diminish over time.

This type of patent protection requires a large amount of input from the business and marketing side of the client, and not just the technology side. Without the marketing information, critical issues may be overlooked and the patent may have much less value to the client than it could have.