At one well-known technology company, patents were not viewed as vital in its early stages of growth. Then the company had to reconsider the role of patents and pivot its approach to avoid litigation. Cross-licensing and purchasing patents became a cost of doing business. Having a patent portfolio eased investor concerns, as the company moved to an IPO.
Protection of intellectual property is an essential component to innovation for tech companies. It’s important to determine how patents will contribute to your business strategy. With this forethought, you can help protect your intellectual property as a key asset and provide a foundation for risk management, future innovation, and sustained growth.
Patents can be leveraged to generate revenue, to collaborate, or to control through the exclusive use of your intellectual property. How you use them depends on your business objectives.
What role do patents play at your company today? How should this role evolve? To answer these questions, review your patent program and assess your portfolio of patents with regularity.
Review your patent strategy
As your organization grows, and nears its IPO, it’s a good idea to ensure you’re protecting your intellectual property. Consider the following steps in a patent review:
- Understand the existing patents you have in place. Determine whether you’re patenting your most strategic, valuable products. Ensure a member of the leadership team has the right reports to track patents in order to ask the right questions to guide this process. A senior member of the leadership team must ensure patent strategy remains aligned with business strategy.
- Assess the risk exposures where patents are not in place. An assessment enables you to understand when to invest in patent creation, acquire patents, and when cross-licensing is necessary.
- Prioritize your patent resources based on your most important products. If you don’t have internal legal resources for an analysis, it may be worthwhile to invest in reviewing your intellectual property to ensure your company is well positioned to build on its existing IP and roll out new products.
Ingrain a cultural mindset
Develop an organizational culture of awareness about the importance of protecting intellectual property (including nonpatent IP such as trade secrets, trademarks, and copyrights). Education is key to ingraining in the inventor’s mindset the value of intellectual property to the company. Employees must know the right time to engage your patent attorneys. Waiting until late in the product development cycle will create legal, financial, and reputational risks.
Aligning policy with the intent for innovation
The Patent Commissioner sets the direction for the policy of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The current Patent Commissioner, appointed by the President and approved by Congress, looks favorably on patents being created and granted.
Depending on the view of Congress and the Executive branch, the pendulum in Washington tends to swing back and forth on patents as enabling or inhibiting innovation.
The crux of the debate is how to best use the patent system to foster technological advances. This same debate frames each company’s view of patents. Some companies consider patents to be essential to innovation. Others want to innovate without patent interference. Your company must understand the current patent environment and determine how to use patents to protect your intellectual property and support innovation for competitive advantage, while managing any patent risks.