Lean Patents Power Start-ups

Posted: April 28, 2013 by Vance VanDrake III in Legal, Planning, Startup

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Startups rarely think about intellectual property protection because they believe that comes after the product is complete. These startups should consider a “lean” patent model that mirrors the lean start-up model and shares the same benefits of flexibility, low initial cost, and optimization. This works well for large and small companies to begin protecting their big ideas/.

File a Provisional Patent Application  

Provisional patent applications are cheap to file.  Really cheap.  The filing fee for a small entity (less than 500 employees) is only $125.  Provisional patent applications have fewer filing requirements than a “regular” patent application.  In theory, you can file a Keynote/Powerpoint presentation as a provisional patent application.

You can write most of it yourself.  A patent application is required to “enable” the technology that ultimately will be the subject of an issued patent.  This means that your application has to teach a person of “ordinary skill in the art” how to make and use your invention.  Much of this documentation already exists within your company and developed for other purposes, so pull it all together.  Then get an attorney to spend time reviewing the documentation to avoid filing errors.  Now have your attorney file it.  You are officially “patent pending”, which you may use in marketing materials, can help attract investment, and can slow competitors down.  Provisional applications are 100% confidential.

File More Provisional Patent Applications! Iterate!

A provisional patent application buys you one year from your filing date to file a “regular” utility patent application.  Most companies just wait the year and then file the utility application.  Don’t do that.  If your first provisional helped you get funding, then it’s worth cleaning up the first MVP application filing.  Have you added to the product? Add the new material to your previous filing and file another provisional.  Now you have multiple pending applications, which is even more impressive…it’s still only a $125 filing fee per provisional. You can file as many of these as you want and most entrepreneurs waste this opportunity.

The One Year Deadline…

So, when the one year deadline from your first provisional filing is upon you, do you file a bunch of expensive utility patent applications?  No!  You file one utility application that claims priority to all of your provisional applications.  Utility applications are more expensive to file, require claims, and have stricter requirements, but now you can capture your iterative design process, which mirrored your “lean” approach, in a single utility application.  And hopefully your robust patent portfolio already got you a little funding.

There is no “one size fits all” strategy. Exceptions, nuances and Murphy’s law mean you shouldn’t try to do it all yourself.  Work with a patent attorney that “gets it” and adjust the strategy to fit your business. The strategy you start with change several times in a year or two.  Adaptability and flexibility is important in intellectual property as well as your business.

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