Patent bootstrapping for start-ups

ATMAC Mar 23 2016

Patents are a powerful tool for protecting innovative technology and done properly can literally add millions of dollars to a company’s valuation.

As a recently minted CEO of your own startup, you may be tempted to save cash by self-drafting your own patent applications. Don’t. Your most precious resource is your time and you will waste much of it trying to wrap your head around the mechanics of intellectual property. To make matters worse, the result of your DIY efforts will be costlier in the end when you inadvertently forfeit your rights by drafting an unsophisticated application or missing a critical deadline.

Doing everything yourself may feel heroic, but to actually increase your company’s valuation you should invest your time and money in working with a qualified patent agent.

Although dollars are short during the startup phase, avoid making price the primary concern when shopping for a patent agent. The proverb ‘you get what you pay for’ holds true in the patent world. What you want is an experienced patent agent who understands your technology and business situation and gives solid guidance for building a patent portfolio that will make a profit.

The patent agent you select should make clear explanations and suggestions that you understand. Patents are complicated legal instruments, but an experienced agent will be an expert at explaining complicated things in logical and easy to understand ways. As the decision maker, you need to understand the options and not feel like you are being bamboozled.

Patent rights can be lost by public disclosures and even by the passage of time itself. If you are wondering about patenting a particular product or feature, at least have an initial conversation with your patent agent. Ideally, do this before you announce your idea. Some good upfront advice can pay huge dividends. Even if you ultimately decide to hold off on the patenting process, a good agent may be able to suggest ways to preserve your rights until you are ready to proceed.

Compare and contrast differences of your new technology with that already known. Your patent agent will want to know what you think is innovative about your idea and this is generally best explained by comparison to the old way of doing things. Ideally, your innovation will have advantages, but even a new way of doing the exact same thing can still be patentable.

You may think of your invention in a very limited way – your implementation is your invention and that’s what you want a patent on. But your patent agent will be thinking of how your invention can be refined to protect the generalized form of the invention rather than just your one specific implementation.

Just as you would seek the advice of an accountant for a complicated tax question or a lawyer to draft a tricky legal settlement, it’s absolutely in your best interest to work with a registered patent agent for securing valuable patent protection.


Andrew holds a Bachelor of Applied Science (BASc), computer engineering, from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. His firm, ATMAC Patent Services Ltd., specializes in helping high tech startups build patent portfolios. He has over a decade of patent experience including working as a patent engineer at a patent firm in Taipei and as the patent manager of a Calgary-based technology company. Prior to entering the field of intellectual property, Andrew worked as a hardware engineer in Silicon Valley doing circuit board design and associated firmware for companies in the telecommunications industry.

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