Standardizing Patent Decisions


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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Standardizing Patent Decision Making

The Invention Checklist distills all kinds of hard-fought lessons into a single page.

The lessons learned come from making bad decisions and figuring out how to not make them again.

Standardizing the decision making process is incredibly valuable on many levels.


Very large companies often have a budget for their patents.

In a big company, inventors might fill out an invention disclosure form, which gets submitted to a patent committee.

The patent committee’s job is to go through the inventions and figure out which ones should be patented and which ones not.

I experienced this first hand at Hewlett Packard.

As an engineer at HP in the 1990’s, the company announced a big push for patents.

This was a brand new process and nobody knew much about it – including my managers.

For every invention disclosure that was filed, they would give out a $100 bonus.

I filed 15 of them in two weeks.

The invention disclosures found their way to some smoke-filled room where a bunch of managers sat around and figured out which should be patented and which not.

I had a good idea what inventions were important to my business unit and which were not.

I submitted the important ones, but I also included a few “extra” ones that I knew were pointless, but hey, I got an extra $100, right?

I was shocked when the managers came back to me and told me the good news.

Nine of my fifteen inventions would be filed.

But my garbage inventions that I threw in just for the extra $100 were the ones they picked, and they didn’t like the big, important inventions that captured real business value.

My manager came back and tried to explain why they picked some but not the others.

The message I heard was “We took 60% of them – that is above average!”

I could not figure out why some made the grade and others did not.

Looking back, my group in HP didn’t have any criterial to make their decisions.

None of the managers had ever been through the patent process, and there was no patent process in our division.

It looked to me that they took the pile of invention disclosures, stood on the top of a stairwell, and dropped them.

They could only take 60% of them, so they took the ones on the top steps.

I was super frustrated because I wanted to argue why some of the inventions were better than others, but the decision was done.

As an inventor, I wanted to know exactly what the decision criteria would be.

Why?  Because I wanted to game the system.

I don’t mean that in a negative way, but a positive one.

I wanted to optimize each invention disclosure so that it would get selected for patenting.

I wanted to give them exactly what they wanted.

I was very frustrated when I had no idea what they wanted.

Looking back, I am sure that my managers were frustrated, too, because they had no way of judging good inventions from bad.


As a patent attorney, I have worked with very sophisticated patent filers.

These are companies who file literally thousands of patents per year.

Internally, they need a set of metrics to train the people in the smoke filled room, so they use metrics like what is in the checklist.

Their internal checklists and procedures help them take the bias out of the decision making process.


Let’s admit it.  Everyone has some bias.

Inventors have an irrational love of their inventions.

Managers want to believe that their patents will have incredible value and that they will be the key to the company’s success.

Some people might have some weird agenda that has nothing to do with whether a patent has commercial value.

Patents are assets that will be available for 20 years.

The value of most patents peaks around year 12.

Which is a lifetime away in most corporate business decisions.

Often, the people who select the patents are not the people who will be around when they are enforced, so there is little accountability.

The checklist is a way to weed out the bad inventions so that – hopefully – there will be some meaningful assets on the books when they are needed.

The purpose of the checklist is to give you a reference point for evaluating your inventions.

Normally, the checklist is used to compare one invention to another.

In a big company setting, each invention will be rated using the checklist, then those with the highest scores will go on to patenting.

Startup CEOs are notoriously blind to their biases.

Through no fault of their own, they believe in an invention or a concept so much that they become irrational about them.

By using a more rational and repeatable decision making process, we can eliminate the biases that we all carry.

When we know that an invention meets a set of standardized, objective criteria, we can have much more confidence in our decision.

Here’s one of the biggest reasons to use the checklist:

When we do a serious, thoughtful analysis, we can sleep better at night knowing that we made a good choice.

And we have a set of objective criteria to go back to and see if the choices we made still are the right

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