We hear a lot in the news about patent wars among the tech giants – Nokia vs. Google, Apple’s lawsuits in China, and Facebook vs. Yahoo! International patent protection is clearly a key component to defensive and offensive competitive strategies within large, global organizations. But what about smaller technology players and early stage start-ups that don’t have the resources to hire full-time, international law firms? For cash-strapped start-ups, the cost to file international patents to protect their innovations is often too complex and too costly. This leaves them exposed to competition in other markets and may have a serious impact on their ability to scale long-term.
What can start-ups do to protect their innovations and IP on the world stage during the four lifecycle stages identified by the Start-Up Genome Project: Discovery, validation, efficiency and scale?
Discovery and Validation
The first step is to think globally and act locally. Start-ups should begin by applying for a domestic patent. This will give them an exclusive right to their invention for a set period of time and afford them the opportunity to formulate an international patent filing plan. Because patents are country-specific and are limited to the borders of the issuing country, start-ups need to take a hard look at their financials and come up with a strategy and budget for entering select countries. They also need to keep in mind that after filing for a U.S. patent, there is a limited timeframe available for applying for international patent protection. The worst case scenario would be for a start-up to forgo international patent protection and later realize that it isn’t able to protect their its invention against infringers in other markets.
So while a start-up may operate only in the U.S. today, if there’s a chance that it may somedayt manufacture in Asia, sell in Europe, or compete with a company in Australia, it must act now.