Patent-Based Business Strategy

Show Summary - April 27, 2009

Guest: Robert Cantrell

Robert Cantrell (Alexandria, VA), business writer and shark photographer. "Outpacing the Competition: Patent-Based Business Strategy"

Robert Cantrell is a stockbroker, financier and author of "Outpacing the Competition: A Patent Based Business Strategy." He is also a well known undersea photographer and advocate for endangered sharks. He believes that patenting, which is the legal protection of inventions, is an outstanding tool to promote innovation and encourage small businesses. With respect to the environment, new ideas are particularly important. However, it is crucial for entrepreneurs to understand the legality of patents and have the knowledge to use the patents to implement an effective marketing strategy.

The first United States patent was granted in 1790 and the patent office was established by Thomas Jefferson. The objective was to protect new ideas so that the inventors would have an opportunity to profit from them. That would provide an incentive for many more new ideas.

Today millions upon millions of patents have been awarded. It is up to the recipient to be on guard against infringement, and to investigate and enforce their patent protection through the legal system. A pending patent also protects against infringement. However, there is no guarantee that a pending patent will ever be converted to a patent, there is no guarantee that a patent will make money and a full patent only protects for 17 years.

A pending patent can last for as little as two or as long as ten years. The government guarantees secrecy for the first 18 month after filing. However, the application is then published so that it's originality can be challenged.

It is wise, when filing for a U.S. patent, to also file in as many other countries as possible. In Europe, once an unprotected idea is disclosed to the public, a patent can never be filed (hence, the importance of early secrecy). In the U.S., laws are similar but considerably more complex.

Patents should be filed very early in the research and development process, and every effort should be made to maintain secrecy, including "non-disclosure" documentation, which is the inventor's best friend. A patent attorney is invaluable.

95% of patents turn out to have no commercial value (although proving "demand for the art" is part of the review process). If you have ten variations on an idea, you should apply for patents on all of them.

Mr. Cantrell also talked about licensing, which is a very common business practice. Usually, the small inventor is able to develop their idea only to a certain point. They must then license it to a larger company for marketing, distribution and promotion. That is what Microsoft initially did with IBM and it worked out amazingly well for both companies. However, it is the initial patent that gives you the leverage to interact on an equal basis with the larger company.

Final words: Document and protect early, then sell or license!

Categories: Business, patents and the environment