At the outset, patents are valuable business assets. They may have different values or levels of value depending upon many factors. In order for a business to determine whether or not to go forward with the patent process, several factors need to be considered. Many businesses invest in their patent portfolio in order to protect their assets, deter copying, profit from licensing, promote company recognition/branding, create trade value, and/or validate success in their chosen field.
The most obvious determination for obtaining a patent is to protect a company’s assets. This protection may be offensive (seeking to stop infringers), or defensive (no one can get a patent and stop you). Any product you sell may be copied if you do not own a patent which covers that product. Stated another way, there is no basis for attempting to stop someone from competing by copying without owning a patent on the product. A “patent pending” marking provides no legal protection but it can help keep honest people away.
It is apparent that owning a patent, which covers a product you sell, can provide a competitive advantage. Just indicating that the product is covered by a patent is often a significant value. The highest value for a patent is to use it to stop copiers, that is, to engage in litigation if some initial attempts to negotiate a reasonable settlement are not successful.
Alternatives to stopping competitors include earning money from licensing your patent. That may enable competition, but it can provide income if the licensee makes sales that you might not have made anyway.
Patents may help keep you out of costly litigation in a situation where a competitor accuses you of patent infringement and may need to have access to your technology. A cross license can save a great deal of money in legal fees and costs in the right circumstances.
Branding and Trade Value:
Investors may look more favorably upon a company that has a patent or a patent portfolio than one that has no patents.
It is very hollow to promote your company as “innovative,” or “leading the pack,” if you do not own some patents. A patent is evidence of, and recognition of, the innovative nature of a company.
We often hear the term, “exit strategy.” Companies are sold every day. A company with a patent portfolio is likely more valuable than a company with no patents. Equally as important, potential investors are more likely to fund a company that has a patent or a patent portfolio.
Finally, there is the “vanity patent.” Having invented something potentially, or actually, permits one to boast that they have invented something and own a patent. While that may not amount to a business asset, anyone who has an invention covered by an issued patent is among a very tiny percentage of the population.
Why Should a Person Apply for a Patent?
A person may say, “I could never afford to enforce a patent against a competitor, so why get one?” What we have laid out above should make it clear that there are many valid reasons to file for a patent. The benefits are clear — owning a patent offers its owner(s) the kind of value and recognition that will be taken seriously on the market; thus, making the investment early on can potentially earn goodwill for your business and increase brand recognition.
What is the Next Step?
Written by Lawrence A. Maxham
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