How Small Companies Pick Inventions for Patents


This is a transcript from a section of the course “Patents 340 – Invention Rating Checklist,” which is available here at IP.Education.

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How The Checklist Gets Used In Small Companies

For a startup company or a solo inventor, the checklist can be much more than another form to fill out.

It can be a tool for making sure you have all the bases covered before you spend your cash.

Very large companies do patents in volume.

They know that 90% of their patents might never have value, but those that do have value will pay for all the others.

For those companies, it is purely a numbers game.

They are not necessarily trying to find the good inventions, they are just trying to keep from getting patents on really bad inventions.

For small companies, each patent is a huge investment.

Not only is it an investment in money, but also in the time that it takes to curate, capture, and manage an invention through the patent process.

For a small company, each patent matters.

A lot.

Investors in the small company are counting on the patent holding some value.

They want the protection for their investment.

And they want the leverage that a patent gives for licensing.

The checklist helps you find inventions, but also curate the inventions to meet the business goals.

I used to do lots of patents for Microsoft.

I was in a conference room in Redmond meeting with inventors about their invention.

The inventor was explaining how the invention worked and all the little features about it.

Without really thinking, I started asking some questions about the invention.

How would it work in this scenario?

What would happen if it were deployed on a mobile device?

What about that scenario?

I started into brainstorming mode.

It took me a while to figure out that the inventor was getting frustrated with the questions.

He kept arguing why the invention would not work in this scenario or that scenario.

I was getting frustrated, too, with his reluctance to expand his invention.

“But that is not what we are shipping!”  he finally said.

“I don’t care about your product!”  I said.

“I am not here to describe your product.

I am here to describe Google’s product or Apple’s product.

Not only that, I am here to describe their products five, ten, or fifteen years from now.”




What was the lesson here?

The patent is not supposed to describe just what you did in your invention.

If we curate the invention, we can make it much, much more valuable than just the product we happen to be working on right now.

Every inventor – and to a large extent – every entrepreneur gets blinded by what they are doing right now.

We all get focused on the job at hand, and it is hard for us to see the big picture.

For inventors, they might have been staring at this invention for two years, thinking through every facet of it, polishing every face.

They are so focused on hitting their next milestone that they don’t really think about the product 15 years from now.

They also get myopic about their internally imposed constraints.

For my Microsoft inventor, his constraint was that his product had to be backwards compatible with some older, legacy product.

His competitors will not have that constraint and they will not make the same decisions that he would.

His competitors would wind up with a different product to solve the same problem.

Many inventors get stuck in this idea that their invention is the BEST way to do something.

The checklist is a way to separate ourselves from the myopia of the product we are working on now, and try to think through the invention through many different lenses.

Yes, a competitor may make the product in a less efficient manner, but they might be approaching the business in a whole different way.

We might be going after the high value, low volume customers, but a competitor may go after the high volume, low cost customers.

A key to getting a good patent is to do the hard work beforehand.

Startup companies have way too much at stake with each patent to be myopic.

To ensure we get a good asset, we need to stretch the invention as much as possible.

This is the best way to reduce our risk and maximize our potential.

Like I have said several times through this course:

The checklist is merely a tool.

For the small business, the checklist is a way to make sure we think through as many different options as possible.

For the inventor, the checklist is a way to further optimize the invention.

I had one inventor call me up at BlueIron and want me to finance their patent.

He claimed that his invention was a “5” on every single element of the checklist.

Of course, I didn’t believe him.

But more importantly, I knew he was not being honest with himself about his invention.

The Bottom line:

Use the checklist as a tool to think about your invention and improve it.

If it does not meet certain criteria, such as detectability for example, brainstorm ways to make it detectable.

Remember that your patent is not about the product you are shipping this month or this year.

It needs to be relevant for two decades, with all the technology changes, all the market changes, and everything else that will change over that time.

Everyone who addresses the same problem will have different design constraints and will approach the problem in a different way.

Before we file the patent, we can think through the problem we are solving from several perspectives and hopefully curate a patent that will have huge commercial value to our company.

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