IP 101: So What Are Patents Good for Again Anyway?

By Victor A. Cardona

The Good-

-Granted patents provide a monopoly for the claimed invention. A patent holder can stop another from making, selling, using or importing a product, method, widget, composition of matter, etc. that meets every word of a patent claim.

-A patent is a property right. Venture Capital firms look for potential investment targets to have a patent portfolio to demonstrate that the value of the startup is more than just the composition of the target’s leadership team. The ability to protect a startup’s core IP is essential.

-A strong published patent may scare others away from your technology area thereby reducing competition.

The Bad-

-Most patent applications are published after 18 months from the earliest claimed priority date. This disclosure can alert your competitors to what you are working on even before a patent is granted.

-A patent isn’t the be all and end all. Even with a granted patent, a Startup has to market, sell and do all the usual business building steps.

-Patents aren’t forever. After 20 years from the earliest priority date, your invention is free to the world. On the contrary, a trade secret can be forever, but one has to keep the secret, it has to provide a business advantage and enforcing a trade secret is difficult.

The Ugly-

-Cost. Enforcing a patent can be costly. Obtaining a patent can be costly. However, it is even more expensive long term for your competitor to reap of the benefits of your hard work by taking the value of your efforts without paying for it.

-A patent doesn’t give you the right to practice your own invention. It only lets you keep someone else from doing so. If the practicing of your invention infringes someone else’s patent—let’s say your invention is an improvement of that person’s invention-you need permission to practice it. You can still stop someone else from practicing your invention, but need to make a deal with that other guy so you can do so.