Protecting Your Ideas May Be Easier Today
The decision of whether or not a small business owner should attempt to patent their invention or intellectual property is a difficult one. The pros include limiting the competition and potentially opening additional income opportunities. The cons are that it is very expensive, your invention/idea may get rejected, and the intellectual property is publicly available. This is a complex subject: only the details of each individual instance tend to reveal whether a patent is worth pursuing.
Patent holders often find that they went through the process to defend against potential competition which never materialises. I went through the process of creating a software patent years ago while working for a small artificial intelligence (AI) company with several Fortune 500 investors. We were collaborating on new technology and the investors had a claim to it. AI was very competitive at the time, and the investors paid the fees to protect their investment. I still smile when I recall seeing my very technical algorithm written in legal jargon. We worked on the patents for months and waited even longer for a response. We eventually prevailed, and our team became a bunch of patent holders. Shortly afterward, the industry started moving away from an intense focus on AI and these patents served no value.
Historical patent laws did not protect the patent holder as well as he or she thought… Today there is more protection via the “first to file” approach.
If you are considering it, there is some positive news. What is not very well understood regarding historical patent laws is that they did not protect the patent holder as well as he or she thought. Under the previous law, the “first to invent” took priority. This meant a challenger could come along, through considerable documentation, and lay claim to a patented idea. Did it deny the patent holder the right to apply the invention – how about that? You spend all this money, take all this time, disclose your idea and get the patent; ultimately someone could come along and undermine your claim.
The law is termed the “first to file” approach. This means even if someone comes along with proof they had the idea first if you are the patent holder your invention is protected. (This is more common outside the United States.) To me, this alternative approach has more of a sense of fairness. The patent process is time consuming, complex, and expensive. If someone goes through this process, their idea should be protected. This makes it more attractive to go through the patent process. Have you ever tried to develop a patent, or are you in the process now? Share your struggles or successes here.