Patent protection is a difficult topic for many people, including startup founders. Most startups therefore do not file any patents. Dutch government organisation RVO believes this is a waste and has provided this guest post to address how they can benefit from patents with the right strategy.
About the authors: Yp Kroon (IP-expert) and Myra Verkuijl (communications advisor) work at the Dutch Patent Office (Octrooicentrum Nederland), which is part of RVO.
Common misconceptions about patents
The three most well-known preconceptions about patents are:
- they’re expensive
- they’re only of benefit to major companies
- they’re fatal to innovation.
But are these true? We at the RVO disagree. Startups can make patents work for them. First: a little bit of theory.
Three conditions for a patent
A patent protects an invention on a technological product or process. If you have a patent you can prohibit others from copying, selling or introducing your invention. A patent applies for a maximum of 20 years. After this time, anyone is free to use the technology from your invention.
Unlike copyright protection, which is received automatically, you need to apply explicitly for patent protection. To make a successful application, your invention must meet three conditions:
- It must be new. The product or process must not be known anywhere in the world at the time that you apply for your patent. Your invention must not even be on a self-printed sheet of A4 that you handed out during a seminar at the University of Kazan.
- It must be inventive. Your invention must be an inventive solution that is not self-evident to a professional.
- It must have an industrial application. It must be possible to produce your invention on an industrial scale.
Startup? Make your patent work for you
The costs for a patent are high. They start with the – relatively low – costs of a patent application. On top of this, there are the annually increasing costs of maintaining your patent: the maintenance fees. You have to pay these for every country in which you have applied for a patent. And that will be expensive.
To decide if the cost is worth it, smart startups ensure they have a well-thought-out patent strategy as part of their business strategy. They do the following:
- At an early stage, smart startups consider whether they want to protect or share their invention, or keep it secret. The choice depends on their business model, among other things. The IE-kompass (Intellectual Property Compass) – PDF – is a handy tool that explains all protection options.
- They only apply for a patent if it makes sense. For instance, because it gives them a good negotiating position if they are looking for collaboration partners or investors.
- Smart startups only apply for a patent in specific countries. Countries where they themselves want to do something with their invention or countries where they can profit through licences on their invention.
Free source of inspiration for everyone
Every invention ever patented anywhere in the world is public. Imagine: more than 90 million patents you can search and from which you can retrieve all kinds of information. What are the trends in the various technological fields, where are your competitors, who could you possibly collaborate with and so on and so forth? You can search patent-search via Google or via the European Patent Office directly. Searching through this treasure house of information (better known as patent databases) can be difficult though.
Available support from Dutch government
The Netherlands Patent Office runs free workshops which will teach you how to search effectively. The Netherlands Patent Office can help you to strengthen your negotiating position. We can provide free help, for instance when you are looking for patent information, workshops, guest lectures, talks with patent consultants, e-learning modules and patent education.
Image: from RVO IE kompas