Your View May Not Be Your Competitor’s

“When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

Inventors are often forced to innovate based on artificial constraints. The inventor may be forced to live with the constraints, but their competitors have not.

This is especially true when a product has constraints that are unique to their company. For example, backwards compatibility to a previous version of the company’s product is an artificial constraint that will not exist for competitors, nor will it exist ten years from now when a patent is just beginning its enforcement period.

A good patent covers the concepts of a product being shipped, but is also relevant 5, 10, and 15 years down the road. The patent’s relevance is based on who may benefit from using it. When a product is successful in the marketplace, competitors will start to copy and improve on the product.

A patent becomes relevant when it can prevent direct copying, but it becomes much more relevant when it is essential to many different variations of the product. This type of patent can be licensed across the industry in different forms, making the patent holder a much more powerful economic force than merely one of many competitors.

The options available to the business owner include packaging some form of the product into a licensable unit, where every player in the marketplace uses your invention. The license may be minimal enough and the value of the invention great enough that it may draw additional companies into the space. Qualcomm has done this with great success with their CDMA cell phone technology.

Another option is to keep competitors out of the space. A patent lawsuit can ask that competitors cease and desist from practicing the invention, and competitors can have their product seized at the border and removed from store shelves.