Sophisticated patent owners take a very proactive approach to managing their patent portfolios.
Patents are assets with a 20 year lifespan. They will almost always outlast the products and services that were the inspiration for the inventions, but their usefulness may not actually be realized until many years after they are filed.
Because of the extended life of the patent, curating the inventions and constructing a patent portfolio is a much more difficult and inexact science than merely writing patents around the products that you happen to ship.
A three prong approach (in increasing order of value):
1. “Forward patenting” sessions are where the business and technology teams strategize about the state of the market 5 or more years into the future. These sessions can generate many “interesting” ideas that, with careful patent drafting, are intended to be foundational patents that disrupt and control your market for years to come. However, these patents almost never achieve that goal.
These patents can have unintended consequences, such as creating unnecessary prior art that hurts the company years down the line.
2. “Protect the product” patents are those that are meant to keep immediate competitors from your marketplace. Here, we look at what competitors might attack the market space with their technologies and marketing efforts, and we try to keep them out of the space with well crafted patents.
Patents on a specific product are designed for enforcement. They protect the immediate product being sold, and they defend your investment in the product you are selling. Eventually, these patents may become licensed or part of patent pools, but their core focus is in the short term.
These types of patents can be used in negotiating joint ventures, doing outbound licensing, and other business negotiations.
3. “Problem solved on the way” patents are often the most overlooked and yet most valuable ideas. As you are developing a product, there are often problems that need to be solved in order to deliver the product. These problems are often excellent chokepoints which all competitors will have to solve. By having patents on these chokepoints, the market can be effectively controlled even if the “protect the product” patents are not granted. These solutions are also good candidates to consider for outbound licensing.
These are the most valuable patents – because they come from the hard work of solving real problems.
Edison’s lightbulb filament invention was not some “flash of genius,” it was the result of 1000 experiments. Edison put in the hard work necessary to find the key chokepoint for competitors.