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Instead of Filing That Patent, Why Not Just Post Your Product Design on a Billboard on the NJ Turnpike?

While patents, ostensibly, provide the foundation for and the protection of intellectual property, without a strategy and plan to implement the underlying invention and the capital to defend it, you might just as well put your product design on a billboard on the NJ Turnpike.  And worse, there are, literally tens of thousands of patents like that.

Filing a patent is often viewed as a critical step for an entrepreneur. But what it represents, in terms of protection of their "invention," is deceptive. If it is approved, it means that it is illegal for anyone to copy or use the design at its foundation, but without a practical implementation of that design, it is simply a novel idea; an idea that is most vulnerable. When a patent is filed and it is approved, that product design is now in the public domain.  By law, it is available to ANYONE who accesses it. ANYONE can view read, copy it, even build the product upon which it is based.  (Hence, my NJ Turnpike metaphor). You are making "the family jewels" available to potentially larger, better funded competitors, who might take your concept and enhance it, take it in another direction or simply implement it EXACTLY as you have designed it.  And then dare you to sue them! And, it's up to the patent holder to defend what is, obviously, a "patently" illegal act.

Further, and perhaps most important, even if it has a practical implementation, without the money to defend it or a strategy and plan to capitalize on it and build market share, your idea is susceptible for anybody to steal! Further, many fledgling entrepreneurs wrongly think that once they have secured their patent, "the game's over." That the investment community will beat a path to their door, throwing money at them or some big company will come calling, begging to license or even acquire the technology.  Does that happen?  Sure, but so too does a blind squirrel, every now and then, find an acorn!  They are often too focused on the concept or idea, not enough focused on developing the product or service to be created from the concept. Having patented intellectual property is a real advantage and is attractive to investors, but only if it has a practical implementation that has actual revenue or real potential.  Intellectual property without any proof that it really works isn't even worth what it will cost you to file for it.

Make no mistake, a patent is important.  It's simply no magic elixir. At the end of the day, having a working product with real customers and revenue is way more critical than simply patenting the intellectual property that underpins it.  It proves that there is, in fact, real intellectual property!  Whether that working product is built by others licensed by the patent holder or created and built by the entrepreneur who designed it, a practical plan (and notice I've used that ugly word, "practical" throughout - that's the critical part that many inventors miss). And then there's that nasty little issue of defending that patent and having the financial wherewithal to defend it.

So, three takeaways from this little discourse, assuming you have an invention worth patenting -
  • Before you file for a patent, be sure that you have a plan for its ultimate implementation as a product;
  • Know that once it is filed and approved, your design is in the public domain and is, potentially, vulnerable to "knockoffs" or copying;
  • Know how you are going to defend it, should that be necessary (read capital and legal counsel). Either have a plan, whether it be with partners or distributors, to gain early and deep market share to deter new market entrants or know that there is capital available.
"The Entrepreneur's Yoda" knows these things.  He's been there.  May success be with you!


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