Why Patents are Worthless Until They Become Invaluable

I hear many high-tech entrepreneurs say, “Patents are worthless. They stop competitors from copying you, but our competitors aren’t copying us. Our main problem is developing and selling our products, not stopping copiers. What we need to succeed is first-mover advantage and a great marketing and sales operation, not expensive, worthless patents.”

What these companies say is true–until they become successful. Once your product becomes a commercial success and you have demonstrated the viability of your innovations in the marketplace, your competitors will swoop in like vultures to reap the benefits of your investment without having to make the same investments themselves. I’ve seen this happen countless times with innovative companies in my two decades as a patent attorney.

“But wait,” you might say, “can’t I just file a patent application for my product after it becomes successful? I’ve done that with copyrights and trademarks.” The problem is that patent law works differently than copyright and trademark law. The deadlines for filing patent applications are very strict, and if you miss one of those deadlines you forfeit your patent rights forever. For example, if you launch a product then you have at most one year in which to file a patent application for that product in the U.S., and it is safest to file a patent application before you launch your product or even start marketing it. (In many countries, you must file your patent application before launching the product or you will forfeit your patent rights.) So if you rely on your experience with copyrights and trademarks you could unintentionally forfeit valuable patent rights.

And that is why patents are worthless until they become invaluable, and why you can’t wait until a product is valuable before seeking patent protection for it.

The situation is very much like maintaining fire insurance on your home. What would you think if you heard someone say, “I don’t need fire insurance now–my home isn’t on fire”? You know that you need fire insurance now to protect you against the devastating consequences you would suffer if your home went on fire in the future. The same is true for patents.

In fact, it’s even more true for patents than for insurance, because it can take several years to obtain a patent. Just filing a patent application provides you with some protection, but it doesn’t grant you the most important kind of protection: the ability to sue a competitor and stop them from selling competing products and services. For that, you need a granted patent, which can take several years to obtain after filing a patent application. So if you want to obtain a patent that you can enforce against a competitor, you should file a patent application as soon as possible. We often file patent applications for our clients a year or more before they launch their first corresponding product.

If you were under the impression that patents aren’t valuable, I hope that this brief explanation helped you to understand that although patents may appear to be worthless in the early stages of your product development, they become invaluable as soon as your product becomes commercially successful–which is precisely when you need a patent and when it would have been too late to seek patent protection if you had not already initiated the process.

At Blueshift IP, we obtain strong, broad, and defensible patents for our software clients everyday. Contact us now to find out how we can help you to obtain patents for your business.

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