Regardless of one’s philosophy, patent system is here.  The real question to be asked is therefore whether an inventor or a company needs to apply for a patent.   This is of course an entirely different question than whether the society needs a patent system.  A CEO of a company might be a staunch opponent of the patent system on a philosophical basis, but his company may nonetheless need to apply for patents in order to be more competitive or even just survive.

The primary reasons why an inventor or a company should apply for patents are based on the multiple benefits a patent brings to its owner as discussed in the previous section (“What does a patent do?“) serve.

There may be other additional benefits.  For example, for companies, applying for patents may also have an unintended positive side effect on their employees.  Receiving a patent tends to motivate people to work harder and more creatively.  Many companies have a special bonus system for invention disclosures and patents received.  Even without such separate bonuses, a patent is an independent and public recognition of the inventor’s achievement and is usually received very positively.

For technology companies, the question is not whether the company should apply for patents, but how many patents should be applied for and which aspect of the technology should be emphasized in patent applications.  In other words, it is a matter of how to build a systematic and strategic portfolio to optimize its positive impact on the healthy development of the company.

The key elements of an IT strategy:

A company’s IP portfolio strategy may be found lacking on several different levels: (1) failing to build a portfolio at all; (2) failing to build a quality portfolio of high-quality patents; (3) failing to build a portfolio that has proper emphases on core technologies and upcoming key technologies; (4) failing to build a coherent portfolio that systematically and strategically provide collective protection to the core business of the company; and (5) failing to put in action an otherwise strong portfolio.  A truly successful IP portfolio should avoid each of the above problems.

Building a patent portfolio is a fusion of business, law and technology, and must be considered carefully with input of competent legal counsel.  Larger companies typically have in-house IP attorneys making such decisions.  For smaller companies that do not have an in-house counsel, it is essential to consult with a patent attorney who is not only skilled in patent procurement but also able to understand the company’s business.

One of the most common mistakes companies make in IP strategies is to merely react to problems that have already surfaced.  This is an insufficient measure and may even be dangerous.  It is important that the management of the company avoid being overly comfortable and confident with its own observations, but instead take a broader and more proactive view and listen to competent legal advice.

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