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Most Patents are a Waste of Money – Patents Need to be Curated

Most patents are a waste of money. Why is it that Apple and Samsung each have many thousands of patents, but when they start a patent war with each other over, they only assert a small handful of patents?

For a small business with limited resources, judiciously selecting ideas for patenting can make the difference between having a valuable portfolio and a worthless one. The key factor on the value of an idea is not the ‘coolness’ of the technology, but whether or not the industry is likely to use the technology at some point in the future. This vision is much, much wider than the typical entrepreneur struggling in the trenches to build a business.

Curating a patent portfolio requires looking past a product going into production, past the immediate, short term business goals of your business, and into the future of your industries as well as other industries.

Entrepreneurs suffer from a laser focused intensity. This characteristic propels them to greatness, as they overcome great obstacles. But they often have difficultly shifting focus to the very long term view required to curate a patent portfolio.

When curating a portfolio, I look for ideas in multiple categories.

The most valuable ones are ideas that would enable or facilitate an entire future industry. What problems will everyone have to solve for a vision to be achieved?

Another category is competitor focused: how will our competitors approach this problem (even if their legacy systems or design constraints are inferior to ours)?

Still another category are solutions that can be delivered when the current technology becomes ubiquitous. What products become feasible when a technology that is expensive today turns into a commodity with huge economies of scale?

These types of patents take a lot more effort on the inventing side to be done well. The ideas behind the patents take a good deal of brainstorming, working through design issues, and culling the technological hurdles and possible solutions. In many cases, product-focused entrepreneurs provide the starting point for these analyses, and a separate, strategic-focused, formal inventing process is used to develop a curated portfolio by a separate, parallel engineering team.