Should you patent your idea?

That is the question that has been taunting us over the past week or so. If you’re here hoping for an answer to that question, I’m afraid you’ve come the wrong place. I’ve been struggling with whether patenting in the software world is even beneficial. There have been many articles and posts (here’s one) out there about the thought that patents stifle, or at the very least, slow down innovation. Today, I read a brief post by Brad Feld on the topic and it made me thing about our particular situation in a much more granular fashion.

Seeing that right now there are only two of us working in the office (aka… Brent’s bedroom), all of our time is spent writing code, meeting with advisors, potential clients, etc. Adding the overhead of preparing to file for a patent, will, and is, slowing us down. Preventing us from developing our product at the speed we would like to.  I understand the need to protect ourselves from someone coming along, stealing our idea, and getting to market before us. These are some of the thoughts going through my head:

  • As long as they don’t just plain copy our code (should be protected under copyright). If our competitors get to market with a product that is better then ours, with more features, and offering more value to the customer… do they not deserve to win?
  • A patent can help you get investment because the investors will feel more protected and know that they are investing in “unique” IP. However, I have to wonder if holding a patent won’t lead to letting one’s guard down and perhaps becoming complacent. The phrase… “We have a patent! We’re safe so let’s relax” comes to mind.
  • A patent can help with acquisition, since those acquiring you are also acquiring your IP and patent. Ok, I don’t have a negative for that one.
  • Launching a product into Beta prior to filing for a patent can make it such that you don’t qualify for a patent due to public disclosure. That’s all good and fine, but I believe that your early adopters and beta testers will provide invaluable feedback which could either show you that you have a valuable product or that you have to re-think your approach. Filing for a patent first might land you a patent for a product or an idea that no one wants!

At the end of the day, I’m new to this aspect of the startup world. My views might be too idealistic and there is a good chance that I’m just plain wrong. I just can’t shake the feeling that patents are evil! Perhaps if patents were only used or contributed to innovation in the past, I would have a different take on the subject. Time will tell… it always does :-)

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One Response

  1. Hi, Dan! This would make a good question for http://answers.onstartups.com. You should check out this community. If we get more Waterloo-ers on there we can pwn them.

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