INNOVATION | The problem with patents

When we meet with inventors, entrepreneurs and innovators with the “next big thing”, it seems what they most often think they need is money.

More to the point, the money they want is for protection, with this most commonly being for patents.

A Provisional Patent with its International 12 month priority date protection, followed by a PCT application and then the National Phase (where patents are sought in every place imaginable) seems to be the order of the day.

The fact is, only a tiny percentage of patents ever return a cent to their creator. Too many people see patents as the cure-all. Unfortunately, apart from the risks in obtaining strong defensible protection, the costs involved in patenting often brings inventors to their knees, before they even have a final working prototype.

In the first case, what is not widely understood is that a patent does not so much protect an idea. What it protects is the particular way a problem has been solved. This is why patents are best referred to as “Method and Apparatus”.

Good protection is best obtained in narrow fields where there is little room to manoeuvre with few other possibilities.

The other issue with a patent is that it discloses the problem and the solution. This is one reason, after a great deal of research, expense and effort, sometimes patents are not sought. Simply the knowhow is retained in-house as a “trade secret”.

Remember the contents of a patent eventually become public knowledge. Good patents that you are prepared to defend can really work. 

But understand the risks. In reality, and we have said this before, a patent is only as good as your willingness and ability to defend it.