DEBATE: Should startups spend precious resources getting patents for their ideas?

This post was originally published on this site

Peter Finnie, partner and patent attorney at IP law firm Potter Clarkson, says YES:

Consider IP protection from the belief the customer is always right. Across countless industries, founders determine what customers want, make it and then sell it. Investors will want security and certainty around protection for the technology they’re committing to. By skipping the crucial step of acquiring a patent portfolio, founders restrict their ability to play the long game. 

By defensively publishing the inventive concept, an investor is subsequently denied the opportunity to protect their investment and now any other party can freely use the technology. It’s like Willy Wonka opening himself up to Slugworth and expecting everyone else in the industry to do likewise.

Most startups have an exit strategy. Founders can choose not to file a patent, but it makes it harder to sell. IP provides various degrees of exclusivity, so why would a buyer spend millions on an acquisition if there are no barriers to competition?

There’s always a threshold where something may seem time-consuming if people don’t want to do it. But the idea that startups are crucifying their growth and ability to get a product going through patenting is a fallacy.

Ofri Ben-Porat, co-founder and CEO of deep tech AI business Edgify, says NO:

Patents are an enormous distraction and cost for innovative startups. Instead, publishing academic research papers – which take around a third of the time and are predicated on the math developed during an intense R&D phase – may better serve an early stage company’s needs. 

The idea behind patent-filing is to be able to go onto the front foot if another entity infringes your intellectual property, asserting its uniqueness to protect your territory and revenue. That’s good in principle. But if you’re a startup and file a patent and a juggernaut of a company comes flying out of nowhere into your space – we can be fairly sure which of the two entities will be left standing. 

Having academic research papers in the public domain enables a startup to defend that its innovation pre-existed any newcomer. This may not excite IP lawyers as much but will at least quickly establish that you have every right to continue with your work and focus on building a great business. The simple truth is that startups don’t have the time or cash to fight a battalion of Prada-suited lawyers.