You have a patent – so what?

A few days ago I was speaking with a nice lady who wanted to get a patent filed for her new idea.  She asked me if the patent office guarantees that nobody else is copying your idea.  I said “no”.  She then asked me if the patent office will stop other people who are copying or stealing your idea.  I said “nope”.  Her final question, “if I have a patent, does that mean I can make my idea and I won’t be sued?”.  Again, I said “no”.    The next logical question is, why even bother with a patent? So let’s recap.  You just spent all this money to get a patent but the patent office; -does not guarantee that you are not copying someone else’s patent, -will not stop or prevent other people from copying your patent, and -will not protect you or guarantee that you can make your invention without being sued by someone else

So why bother?

The first thing you must realize is that patents are not self enforcing.  Just because you have a patent that does not mean people will stop copying your idea or that the patent office will enforce it for you.  It’s up to you to enforce your own patent which can cost millions of dollars.  Unless you are a large company with millions of dollars to spend, having a patent with the hope of shutting other people down is very unlikely.

Again, so why bother?

Patents and patent applications offer tremendous value to a company because they are viewed as assets.  In fact, for most technology companies, patents and patent applications are the most valuable assets the company owns.  So patents are essential if you are trying to raise money for your company or license your idea to another company.   Some ways in which you can make money from your patents or patent applications include:
  1. License your patent rights to another party.  You can divide up these rights many ways.  For example by region (ie: North America vs. Europe), by time (ie: only license for the first 5 years of your patent’s life), by scope (ie: rights to manufacture only), etc.
  2. Sell your patent as an asset.  This is done through an assignment agreement where you assign your rights to another party similar to selling your car to a buyer.
  3. Cross license your patent rights.  If you have patents in a certain area and another company has patents covering a different area, you may be able to cross license these rights to expand your product offerings and generate new sales.
  4. Sell your product or service at a premium or higher price.  A patent should exclude others from making or selling the same product or service therefore reducing competition and allowing you to charge more money.
  5. Sue others who are copying your idea.  If you find other people are copying your patent, you can sue them for money.  There are some law firms and companies that may even take on your case for free and work on a contingent basis.
Although the patent office only grants patents and will not enforce them for you, there are still many ways you can generate good income from your patents.  Also, if you are serious about starting a new business or need to sell or license your ideas to a company, a solid patent covering your idea is essential.  A good patent should protect your ideas and serve as an asset for your company which can be sold or licensed to generate income.