Are your beliefs based on truth, myth or falsehoods?
You might be surprised to find out that a lot of the ‘truths’ about IP that you believe are actually falsehoods perpetuated by the ignorance and half-truths of the media, the internet, other well-meaning entrepreneurs, and even IP practitioners themselves.
In fact, the information you have learned somewhere along your journey could be hurting the quality, quantity, and value of your intellectual property.
How do I know this?
Let’s look at a twitter exchange that I had last weekend.
Tweet from a successful entrepreneur:
“Founders: when starting out, in most cases, don’t worry about getting patents because you probably don’t have the money to enforce them.”
To which I replied:
“Naive advice. It takes 3+ years to get patent, so can’t enforce for years. You may have $$ and need to enforce in 5 years.”
Our exchange was seen by an entrepreneur from Canada who inquired:
“I’ve also been thinking this way too.. It’s a toughy. Is it worth $3,000 to apply provisional with fee to start?”
To which I responded (because originator of the conversation surely did not know how to answer the question):
“My first question would be why are you spending $3000. The fee is only $125.”
(EXPLANATION: The filing fee for a provisional patent Application in the United States is $125. With a little bit of information, and following the instructions on the form, you don’t need a lawyer to file a provisional application.)
The Canadian entrepreneur replied:
“Ah, I found it. But typical utility, sm entity + lawyer fee is usually $1500+ no?” (with a link the USPTO website.)
At this point, I had to wonder, where was he getting these numbers? Utility patents typically cost about $6000 on the low end, and up to $15,000+ on the higher end. Depending on the technology involved that price could be a lot higher.
This is what I mean by truths, myths, and falsehoods. Obviously, what this entrepreneur believes to be true about the costs of patents is actually false, and his misinformation will influence the decisions that he will make about whether or not to file for patent protection.
What else when it comes to patents does he believe to be true?
As an IP practitioner, I know this whole twitter exchange is a microcosm of a larger problem. I know entrepreneurs everywhere don’t understand all of the intricacies of intellectual property law, but it doesn’t prevent them from making blanket statements that circulate as truth.
I know that when cash-strapped entrepreneurs see what looks like free, credible advice, they take it. In fact, they seek out advice like this. First, it’s free. Second, it comes from a successful entrepreneur. When they see a successful entrepreneur who seems to have some experience in this area say that they can ignore something, they tend to listen. Why? They are looking for an excuse NOT to spend their scarce money, time, or effort on it.
So, here is what you can take away from this exchange.
1. Be careful who you take legal advice from. If you get your legal advice in 140 character sound bites to save a few bucks, please don’t. You know better than that, so please, before you act on someone’s free advice (a.k.a. his opinion), think twice.
2. Be careful who you take legal advice from (Part 2.) Even tweets from attorneys should be taken with caution. The successful entrepreneur was not entirely wrong in his original tweet. Not everyone needs expensive patents for their business. However, some companies do. So my tweet was not necessarily meant to cover every situation either. It was merely to point out that the advice is limited, and for some people, it is absolutely the wrong advice.
3. Get an informed opinion. When you have a question about intellectual property (or business formation or partnerships or licensing or any of the 100s of other issues that you are facing), call an attorney and get a couple of hours of his/her time. It’s worth the money to get the right advice for your unique situation. Short money up front could save your business.
4. There is a lot more to protecting your innovation than just getting patents. Many start-ups and entrepreneurs believe that getting the patent is their only IP concern. So if they don’t have to get patents, they falsely believe there is nothing else for them to worry about.
The real patent issue may not be what you need to get, but what others have received. Competitive intelligence, prior art searches, freedom-to-operate opinions, etc. may be even more important to your business than getting patents.
JUST BE CAREFUL WHOSE ADVICE YOU DECIDE TO FOLLOW. IT COULD MAKE OR BREAK YOUR BUSINESS IN WAYS THAT YOU WON’T KNOW ABOUT UNTIL IT IS TOO LATE.
If you believe that you might be under the spell of some IP myths or falsehoods that you’ve learned over the years, I can help you identify fact from fiction. Call me at 508-878-3590 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to set-up an appointment to discuss your intellectual property issues and how I can help you solve them.