Including Patent Strategy in the Product Roadmap

by Chris Peil on April 28, 2014

patent strategyPatent strategy is too often an afterthought – and that’s a mistake which can ultimately cost your company both in terms of future opportunities as well as revenue. Strategic IP development is a key element of building a successful product and company, and neglecting to consider patent implications can be a huge hurdle to your business success. Your intellectual property strategy should go hand-in-hand with the development process, with due consideration given to your IP portfolio at key points throughout your product development.

To understand what to do and why, let’s look at aligning your strategy with business objectives, including it in your product development, and when to get expert help.

Your Patent Strategy and Business Objectives Should Align

First, your patent strategy must be in alignment with your overall business development process. Before you move forward on developing a new product or building your company, ask yourself a few key questions to begin developing a patent strategy:

• How strong is our competitive position?
• Are there IP barriers to product development or business expansion, such as patents held by our competitors?
• Who might pay royalties to us for our patent rights?
• To whom must we pay royalties if something we want to do is already patented?

Companies that don’t take the time to ask these questions are both compromising the value of the IP they create, as well as exposing themselves to potentially company-killing lawsuits from competitors.

You can use your patent portfolio in a few ways: offensively, defensively or for marketing purposes – or a combination of the three. A sound patent strategy aligns your IP portfolio with your business objectives to help you maximize your potential.

Don’t Miss Out on Patent Strategy During Product Development

A reactive strategy to intellectual property can cause serious issues for your company. “Reactive” companies develop product first, then look at the patent implications after development is done. When you treat your patent strategy as an afterthought, you may:

• Miss out on getting a broader patent from the development process itself
• Fail to develop a strong, defensible patent – or even a suite of patents
• Be time-barred from filing claims

In other words, by treating the patent process as separate from the development process, you’re short-changing your IP portfolio. Worse yet, one of your competitors could file a defensible patent before you – which could effectively shut down your product or cost you millions in licensing fees.

All of these very expensive issues can be avoided if you are proactive about developing and defending your IP portfolio throughout your product development process.

So how do you proactively make sure you’re maximizing your IP potential?

Work with a Patent Strategist at Key Phases in Development

It’s important to integrate patent strategy into key phases of your product development process. Times when you want to include a patent strategist in your development process include:

• During initial product idea development
• Any time you have strategic discussions about new features
• When you plan to make announcements about upcoming features
• When you’re considering integrating your product with other companies’ products

During the initial product development, an IP strategist can help you identify where you need protection, and can help you develop a defensible patent portfolio. Additionally, a good patent strategist can help you determine when you may be moving into an area where existing IP may bar your entry, or when you may need to license an existing patent to move forward with your development process. The same applies when you have strategic discussions about new features – new features essentially carry the same risks and considerations from an IP standpoint as new product development.

Announcing New Products and Features

When you plan to make announcements about upcoming features, it’s important to consult your patent strategist before you make the announcement. Public disclosures can bar patent filings, so it’s vital to have your intellectual property protected before you make announcements about new products or new features.

Integrations with Third Party Products

When you integrate your product with other companies’ products, you face a new host of patent-related considerations and potential issues. If you’re thinking about adding integration or partnering with another company, your patent strategist should be involved in the process to make sure your IP is protected.

Partner with a Good Patent Strategist

Ultimately, IP development is a cornerstone of doing business today. Key development personnel, though, such as senior programmers, VPs of Engineering and CTOs – aren’t necessarily experts in patent law strategy – and even if they are experienced, they often don’t have the time to stay on top of this quickly changing field. To ensure you’re pursuing a viable patent strategy, partner with a good patent strategist. Let a legal expert be the legal expert, and let your key development personnel do their jobs to create a great product that will propel your company’s success to the next level.

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