Big News at The IP Link!

Hello Innovators!

One of the things I love about helping entrepreneurs and founders with their IP and patents is all the great conversations I get to have. If there is some way that I can help, I’m typically happy to hop on a Zoom call to discuss it in more depth. On these calls, if there is a way we can help after or beyond the call that makes great sense for us and you, I’m usually happy to talk about what that looks like and enroll folks into one of our programs – at any time.

In fact, I suspect I have talked with many of you over Zoom or at least via email recently, or over the past year or two!

But, I also enjoy deep conversations with our clients and ensuring our programs and services are top-notch.

So, to provide an even better service for our clients, by the end of this month, we will be switching over to a cohort-based process for onboarding new clients. Since our core program is typically between 9 and 12 weeks long, we will be onboarding new cohorts once per quarter rather than at any time as we have done up to now.

What does this mean for you? Well, if you are hoping to file a patent, launch your product, or even start marketing it at any point in the next 3-6 months, now is the time to take action on all the important patent assessment, preparation, and strategy work that needs to happen BEFORE engaging with a lawyer.

…and the best way to start that action is to register now for my upcoming free webinar – I’ll share all the details on the 21st at noon:

What is Inventorship? ⚡️

Game Board

I recently had a question from one of our clients about who should be listed as an inventor on his patent application. If you have multiple founders, or a team of developers, researchers, or engineers, it is important to get this right.

Unlike authorship (which can have a certain flexibility), inventorship is determined based on a set of legal criteria. You need to ensure that the inventors are accurate (are actual “inventors”) based on these criteria. If you get them wrong it may be difficult or expensive to change them later, or, even worse, a competitor could use the mistake to try to invalidate your patent.

Always confirm with your lawyer if you are unsure, but simply put, in order to be an inventor, each person needs to have conceived of at least one of the claims of your patent. Once the claims of your patent have been written, you can go through one by one and ask “who initially came up with this idea?” This isn’t necessarily the person who built the element, or the person who tested it to confirm it worked (especially important in research settings).

Many of our clients are looking to get an initial sense of this before they have written their claims, so we consider it in the first module of The IP Link’s core program, Articulate Product.

In this module, we utilize a template worksheet called The Articulate Product Spreadsheet which has a section specifically devoted to this. In many cases, there is only one inventor and we don’t need to worry about this step, but when multiple people are involved it’s important to understand how inventorship is determined and get an initial sense of who should be listed on your patent as inventors.

Once you are clear on who the inventors are, it is also important to make sure that your business has signed agreements with all inventors ensuring that all rights to the invention are owned by the company.

If you need more help with this or would like to gain access to the Articulate Product Spreadsheet, just let me know!

Reasons to Patent: Credibility

If you missed last week’s “Reasons to Patent” post, it was all about licensing. Check it out here.

As I mentioned last week, one of the most common misconceptions I come across is that the only way a patent can bring value to your business is through legal enforcement (suing a competitor for patent infringement). In reality, there are many, many other reasons to file a patent that are far more relevant to newer, smaller businesses (such as technology startups).

This week I will be discussing credibility. In the early phases of the life of a startup, the credibility of you and your business is very important. You will need to work with other businesses and people in order for your business to grow and succeed, but they likely won’t work with you if they don’t trust or believe in your venture.

There are many ways to show your industry that you are committed, and I wouldn’t suggest just relying on one, but since this blog is all about patents, I’m going to focus on that. Investing the time and money into filing a high-quality patent application is a great way to show others that you are willing to do what it takes to make your business succeed.

Once you file your initial application, you can properly claim that you have “Patent Pending” status. This label sounds impressive. Those who don’t know what is involved in getting to that stage are impressed because they assume it must be difficult (many people don’t understand the difference between an issued patent and patent pending). Those who have been through the process before are also impressed because they know how much effort and investment it takes!

There are many types of people and business relationships where this credibility will come in handy. For example, you may be seeking investment. Initially from friends and family, later from angel investors and VCs. Anyone investing in your business would love to see that you have thought through the protection of your core IP, and that you have invested in your business. If you take your business seriously, they are more likely to also take it seriously. This also applies to banks if you’re looking for a loan, potential new hires you may want to join your cause, other companies you might partner with, granting agencies, and more.

At The IP Link, we help our clients understand the value a patent application might bring to their business BEFORE they start spending tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars on their legal fees with a lawyer. If you’re looking for investment, partnerships, or to hire high-caliber type-A people and you haven’t considered how a patent could help, let’s book a 45-minute strategy session to discuss it!

Can you defend your patent in court? Would you even want to? 🤺

Super Soaker

Many entrepreneurs I talk with shy away from filing a patent because they have heard that “in their industry” or “for their technology” or simply “because they are a small startup” it would be difficult to defend their patent in court.

Although this may be true, does it immediately imply you shouldn’t file a patent? Should getting into a bunch of lawsuits really be at the core of your IP strategy, or is that just what your lawyer would like to see happen? Could there be a better, more business-focused strategy for extracting value from your patent?


For many businesses in many industries (especially technology and software startups), yes, there are many other strategies for extracting value from a patent or even a patent application.

In fact, for smaller companies, attempting to prevent their competition from manufacturing or selling their product by defending their patent in court would not be a great approach. Even if you could win such a court case, the legal fees required to get you there may cause you significant financial woes (to put it mildly).

Plus, as the founder of your business, should you really be spending your time in court arguing over patent infringement or should you be continuing to innovate, looking for investment, finding customers, and selling your solution? Your time is limited and it’s important to choose every action you take carefully, because taking one means you won’t have time to take countless other actions.

Consider your reasons for wanting a patent very carefully. If the primary (or only) reason you’ve considered for filing a patent is to defend your patent in court, then it may not make sense to file until you have a much larger legal budget. Although, even on this point, if you file an application now and all goes well, your patent may not be accepted or defendable for 2-4 years, by which time you may have an increased ability to defend it.

If you are filing a patent for other reasons such as improved credibility, increased investor confidence, licensing or partnerships, improved net worth, or others, then patents may start to make much more sense earlier in the life-cycle of a startup or innovative business.

We do a deep-dive into the business strategy and benefits of filing a patent in Modules 4-6 of The Product Protection Playbook. I’m happy to give you a preview of what this looks like and determine which strategies make the most sense for your business specifically.

Let’s chat:

Bring in extra revenue from your patents and other intellectual property through licensing

One of the best reasons to carefully consider filing a patent application is because it could give your business one or more additional revenue streams.  Depending on your industry, the quality and breadth of your patent or other intellectual property (IP), and your approach, such licensing revenue could be significant!

Table of Contents

What is Licensing?
Can I pursue a license and still continue to operate my business?
How do I license my IP?
Case Study in Licensing Course Content
Case Study in Licensing Patents

What is Licensing

Licensing can mean different things in different contexts, but in this post I will be focussing on the idea of licensing your intellectual property to another business.  Licensing the right to use software to an end user (such as with an End User License Agreement like those we often click “accept” on) is similar but won’t be the focus of this post.

In an IP license, typically a licensor would give a licensee the right to use their IP in exchange for one or more forms of payment.  These payments might include upfront payments, milestone payments, or royalty payments, among others.  Upfront payments are amounts that the licensee would pay to the licensor right when the license agreement is signed.  Milestone payments would become due when certain objectives are achieved.  These might include issuance of one or more licensed patents, first commercial sale of the product, or any number of other achievements.  Royalty payments would give you, as the licensor, a percentage of the revenue the licensee makes based on sales of any products that utilize the licensed IP.  Royalties are important for you to get a portion of the profits generated with your idea, especially if it does really well!

Can I pursue a license and still continue to operate my business?

Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be one or the other.  In many cases, creators try to license their IP exclusively.  This means one party would have the exclusive right to use the IP that is being licensed and you, as the licensor, would be contractually obligated not to give any other party the right to use it.  An exclusive license would typically require higher payments than a non-exclusive arrangement (all else being the same) and could be easier to put in place since you only need to deal with one other company.

If you still want the ability to build your own business, one option could be to consider licensing your IP in another country that your business doesn’t currently operate in (presuming you have a patent or other IP in that country).  This would allow you to still offer an exclusive license, the exclusivity would just be limited to that country.  If you have a platform technology or IP that could be useful in more than one industry, another option would be to give an exclusive right to use the IP only in one specific industry.  This would allow you to keep using your IP in your industry, or even to put multiple licenses in place that are each exclusive to different industries.

These approaches can work really well for startup companies because the additional revenue that comes from licensing in another country or industry can be used to build your core business.  This revenue might come in more quickly than your own sales if the company you partner with has already established manufacturing and distribution channels, for example.

How do I license my IP?

One of the most important things to consider when starting to license your IP is whether or not there is a market for your product.  Who wants it?  Who are the end users?  How many of them have told you directly that they can’t live without your product?  How many have already paid for it?  If you answered “no one”, “I don’t know”, “zero” and “zero”, you will want to work on this first.  If you need help, please get in touch!

The next thing to consider is how your customers currently solve this problem.  What companies do they currently give their hard earned money to in exchange for the solution to their problem?  You might want to consider approaching these companies with the opportunity to license your IP!  Answering the questions above and building a list of prospective licensees are key components to the first phase of the licensing service we offer at The IP Link.  Part of this first phase also includes finding the right individuals to approach within the companies on your list, and prioritizing who to approach first.

If this initial market research comes back positive and it looks like there are quite a few viable options for potential licensees, then it usually makes sense to invest resources into phase two.  This phase lays the groundwork for presenting your IP in an intriguing way.  We typically draft a succinct one page brochure that highlights the benefits and advantages of your intellectual property, also noting the current protection status and how to get in touch for more information.  For certain industries it makes sense to prepare a PDF that can be emailed to potential prospects, but it also usually helps to have a web version of this brochure including a video (if possible).  Here is an example of a web-brochure that we put together for a client who needed help licensing his marine oil extraction patents:

Now that you have an awesome marketing document and you know who to contact first, it’s time to start meeting new people and building relationships!  This is typically the hardest phase of licensing your IP and can take the most time and effort.  But, at least you already have a list of companies that could be great licensees, and a few people at each of those companies that you can attempt to get in touch with.  This typically takes the form of online networking, cold calling, emailing, and in some cases attending networking events or relevant conferences (budget permitting).

If you are successful in finding one or more interested licensees, before you realize it, you will be well into the negotiation phase (phase 4).  Before proposing any actual financial terms (for example through a license term sheet), it will be important to put resources towards estimating the value of your intellectual property and researching comparable license deals that have been executed in your industry.  This financial research will help you avoid being taken advantage of or getting a bad deal.

Rather than jumping right in with a full license agreement, it typically makes more sense to start with a one or two page license term sheet.  Such a document will help accelerate the negotiation with your prospective licensee by ensuring that you and they agree on the most important points of the planned relationship, before getting bogged down with extensive legalese.

Once the license term sheet is agreed upon, a full license agreement should be negotiated and put in place.  Now the real work of actually commercializing the product can begin!  Ideally the new product is a success, in which case you will also want to monitor sales to ensure the proper royalties are being paid.

To summarize these phases:

  1. Develop a list of prospective licensees.
  2. Create a licensing opportunity brochure.
  3. Contact prospective licensees to explore the market and generate interest in licensing.
  4. If a company becomes interested in licensing, research previously executed licenses of comparable technologies to determine a negotiating starting point for financial terms.
  5. Once a license term sheet has been executed, source, draft and customize a license agreement.
  6. Negotiate the full license agreement.
  7. Monitor the arrangement to ensure compliance.

Case Study in Licensing Course Content

Perhaps you already have a decent relationship with the right person in a company that could be a perfect licensee for your IP.  I recently worked with a client who had developed his own management training course with a far better approach and process than existing courses.  Such a course might not be patentable, but would be protected by copyright, which can also be licensed.

Amazingly, through various local tech entrepreneurship events, my client had met and built a relationship with the president of a recruitment and HR consulting firm with a specialization in leadership coaching and training.  Having a relationship like this can really help you fast-track your licensing efforts.  In this case, the client I mentioned was able to skip phases 1-3 and jump right into phase 4!  In most cases, finding the right partner (phase 3) is the hardest step, so his success in this should really be commended.

The IP Link helped him source and draft a suitable license agreement that wasn’t too overbearing.  Part of this involved thinking through potential scenarios that could arise (both good and bad) and laying out the process for how such situations could be dealt with.

Case Study in Licensing Patents

In another project, I worked with a client who had filed two patent applications years prior to working with me (although The IP Link also helps with this) and one of these patents had been accepted by the patent office (issued).  This client had also built his business up to the point where he was manufacturing and selling the product (online and at trade shows).  Although not necessary to license a patent, his patent had already issued and he had concrete positive market feedback, both of which helped market the licensing opportunity.  

The IP Link helped him develop a contact list, a licensing opportunity brochure, and (as of the publication of this post) we are currently in the process of contacting potential licensees and generating interest!

Please get in touch if you have any additional questions about licensing or need help with it!

What are patent claims and what’s wrong with this car crushing robot patent?

There are many sections of a patent document, which may vary slightly by country, but typically contain:

  • an abstract,
  • the background of the invention,
  • a summary of the invention,
  • a brief description of the drawings,
  • a detailed description of the invention,
  • drawings or figures,
  • and the claims.

The claims are in many ways the most important part of your patent application because they determine what you can prevent others from using, selling, manufacturing and importing.  The claims are the only enforceable part of the invention.  If, once your patent application is accepted and becomes and issued patent, a competitor uses your invention, you only have legal recourse if they are using exactly what is written in one of your claims.  If they leave one part of your claim out, for example, they wouldn’t be infringing on your invention and your patent wouldn’t help you stop the competitor from using their version of your idea.  Let’s look at a specific example.

Narrow Claims

Let’s say you filed a patent on a “Trailerable robot for crushing vehicles”, and your first claim read something like this:

1. A trailerable robotic figure comprising a body and a tail mounted upon at least one pair of forward wheels and at least one pair of rear wheels, said body being hinged to said tail for movement of said body between an erect exhibition position and a lowered trailerable position wherein a portion of said body extends forwardly of said tail and includes attachment means for pivotal connection to a tractor for hauling said robotic figure over roads.

Let’s assume you ran a monster truck show but there were a bunch of competitor monster truck shows popping up in the area and they were all pulling your customers away with competitive giant robotic monsters that could eat cars.  So you filed your patent with the above claim.  Let’s say your patent issued pretty quickly, maybe only 2 or 3 years later, but it turned out that at that time none of your competitors’ robots had tails.  Given that your claim explicitly requires a tail, anyone with a trailerable robotic figure with a hinge that allows movement between an exhibition position and a trailerable position but no tail is in the clear to use their invention.

Given this, and a few other issues with the claims of this patent, I would argue that the claims written in this patent are too narrow to be of significant value to the owner, at least in terms of excluding others from using this invention.  In fact, an issued patent with this resulting claim might not have even been worth the costs associated with drafting, filing and maintaining this patent.  It does however bring significant value to those of us looking for cool patent examples to write blog posts about, so thank you Monster Robot Inc.

Claim Rejection

The claim above as it was written may not have been the original first claim of Monster Robot’s patent application.  The patent office may have rejected their initial patent application due to issues with novelty or obviousness (subscribe to our mailing list for a future post on this).  Perhaps they needed to adjust or narrow their first claim so that at least some version of their patent would be accepted and would issue.  The robot without the tail might have been rejected, but this was the first time anyone had invented a trailerable car crushing robot with a tail.

Broad Claims

If this was not the case, I would argue that they should have included additional broader claims in their initial application to attempt to get a stronger patent.  For example, depending on the results of their assessment on the prior art for robot monsters (if they completed one), they might have tried:

1. A trailerable robotic figure mounted upon one or more wheels, having a forward portion hinged to a rear portion for movement of said forward portion between an erect exhibition position and a lowered trailerable position wherein said forward portion includes attachment means for pivotal connection to a tractor for hauling said robotic figure over roads.

or even better:

1. A trailerable robot capable of transitioning between an erect position and a lowered trailerable position.

Not having done an extensive assessment of these potential claims, it isn’t clear if these claims would have been rejected by the patent office.  However, even if they had a high likelihood of rejection, there isn’t typically a big downside to also including these versions just in case they are accepted.  Monster Robot could always still include the original version of their claim as claim number 2 or 3.

Related Inventions

Alternatively, or in addition to this patent, perhaps there were one or more parts of the broader invention that were completely new and innovative, such as the hinge specifically.  Filing a patent on just this new hinge invention could have allowed Monster Robot Inc to prevent its competition from using such hinge anywhere in their robots, and could have led to numerous licensing opportunities in other industries outside Monster Robot’s core industry (stay in touch for more info about this in the future).  For example, Monster Robot could have licensed the right to use their hinge patent to a large crane manufacturer, thereby bringing in side-revenue to help accelerate the growth of their giant car-destroying fire-breathing monster business.

Preparing for Better Patents

When I work with a client, I make sure I have a thorough and deep understanding of their technology.  Prior to researching comparable prior art, I ask as many questions as is necessary to determine what patentable inventions might have been developed and what aspects in particular might be key components to assess for patentability.  If existing patents or publications are found similar to one aspect of a client’s invention, I would typically advise that they focus the claims of their patent application on a different aspect that may have a higher likelihood of being accepted by the patent office.  This way, not only do my clients gain a better understanding of the competitive landscape, prior art, and whether or not their invention might be accepted, they also end up with a better patent.

Oh and here’s a video of the US Patent 530890 in action – with a clear tail (keep watching, it grabs a car and starts ripping it apart a few minutes in):

Should you be considering patents? What value could they bring?

Yes, I would argue that these days, nearly all companies should be investing time and money into evaluating the potential for their business to derive value from filing one or more patents.

The results of such an evaluation or assessment may suggest that you don’t currently have anything patentable, or they may suggest that you should be filing a patent application right away.  Most, if not all businesses could likely receive an issued patent.  Business processes are patentable, for example.  As is software in many cases, including various aspects of artificial intelligence/machine learning innovations.  

The important first step is to carefully consider if and what you might be able to protect through patent protection and if your application might reasonably be accepted by the patent office.  Once this question is answered, it is important to give thought to whether or not it would bring more value to your business than it costs.

Patents can bring value to a business right away once an application is filed, not just once they are accepted or issued by the patent office (which can be a long, expensive process).  For example, as soon as you file any patent application, such as a United States Provisional, you can claim “patent pending” status – even before the actual patent office ever looks at it.  Having a patent application in the works might bring value to your business in any of the following ways:

1. Reduced need for confidentiality.  Filing an application will allow you to share your idea more freely without the need to worry that someone else might steal your idea.  Such worries are likely unjustified but can still affect your peace of mind.  Peace of mind is valuable, even if it relates to unjustified worries.  Additionally, filing an application will help ensure you don’t lose the ability to file your patent due to your own public disclosure.

2. Improved credibility.  Filing a patent application will bring additional credibility to your business in the eyes of your competitors, customers, potential partners, employees, shareholders and investors.  Many people aren’t entirely clear on exactly what “patent pending” means, so they just assume that they shouldn’t mess with you (stay tuned for a future post).  Even those who do know what it means will think twice, at least until your patent publishes, allowing them to evaluate its potential for themselves.

3. Investor confidence.  Although I mentioned investors in the above point, the value that a patent application can bring to your ability to seek investment is significant enough that it deserves its own point.  I have no doubt that if you are pursuing investment, you will be asked what is preventing your competition (especially any large entrenched players) from building their own version of your product once you prove that it is viable.  The answer to this question isn’t always patent protection, but if not, you should make sure you have a well thought out explanation as to why you aren’t pursuing patent protection, which only comes from carefully considering it.

4. Additional revenue, potentially in the short term.  Licensing your patent allows you to give another company the right to use your patent in exchange for various payments (royalties, upfront payments, milestone payments, etc.).  Believe it or not, depending on your invention and the quality of your patent, there are many companies that are open to licensing even before your patent issues.  It may make sense to pursue licensing as your business’s primary model.  Even if you intend to market and sell your invention through your business, there may be other industries or jurisdictions where your patent could be of value.  It is possible to license the right to use your patent only in such specific industries or jurisdictions, reserving exclusivity to your business in your core area.  The nice thing about pursuing such a model is that it could bring in significant revenue much sooner than sales of your own products and could help fund the development of your core business.

5. Increased net worth.  Intangible assets such as patents and other forms of intellectual property can increase the financial net worth of your business.  The financial value of your company is important if you are considering an investment round, a sale of your company or a portion of it, or an initial public offering (IPO).  Even if such events are a long way off, building your patent portfolio now can significantly add to the eventual valuation of your company.

6. Competitive differentiation. If your competitors are developing similar technologies, filing patent applications early can limit your competitors’ ability to file similar patents.  Over the long term, this could also reduce the chances that you are infringing on others’ patents.  As such, you may not need to license the right to use other company’s patents as much as you otherwise would.  Even better, your competition won’t be able to use or sell any of your issued patents (patents that are approved by the patent office) without a license from you.

7. Better negotiating position.  If you are considering a partnership such as a co-development, manufacturing, or distribution arrangement, having one or more patents can greatly improve your ability to negotiate a more beneficial agreement for your company.  In the example of a co-development agreement, if you have clear background intellectual property, your potential partner will likely need to a license in order to proceed with the collaboration.  This could change the distribution of revenues received for the new joint technology or result in another benefit or concession back to you.

Almost all these benefits are available to you as soon as you submit your first patent application.  Once your patent is accepted by the patent office, and issues, it is even easier to extract value in most of these ways.  For example, a company considering licensing your patent would be more likely to move forward and may pay higher royalties if your patent has issued than if it is still in the application phase.  The other “benefit” that comes from having your patent issue, is that you can now finally sue anyone who is using your invention (infringing), although I would argue that it will probably be far more of a headache than a benefit to your company if you pursue this path.  You are much more likely to extract value by constructively pursuing a licensing arrangement.  Comment below if you know of any other ways patents can bring value that I may have missed and contact us if you need help evaluating the potential for your business to derive value from filing one or more patents!

The first thing to know when considering patents

If you sell or publicly disclose your product or invention, you immediately lose the ability to file a patent in most of the world and start the clock ticking for the US and Canada.

US1906908 Watch or clock calendar or date indicator

This is the first thing you should know if you are considering filing a patent application because it determines your urgency and your timeline.  How quickly do you need to find answers to all the other questions you might have about the patent process?  What is your timeline for assessing, drafting, and filing your patent application?  It all depends on your anticipated or prior date of first publication.

In the patent office’s eyes, a publication includes the obvious public releases (website, blog, article, press release, conference presentation, etc.) but also any conversation that isn’t covered by a confidentiality agreement (NDA), a sale, or even an offer to sell a product that incorporates your invention.  It may be possible to share some information about your invention (such as the benefits or features) without disclosing how it works, but in most cases, I would argue not to risk it.  Even a limited publication might impact the obviousness of your future patent application. Also, in the course of assessing and drafting your patent, you may reconsider what the key aspects of your invention are. As such, you should make every effort to decide on your patent strategy and file (if patent protection makes sense for your invention and your business) before making any publication, even if you think the publication won’t fully disclose your invention.  It’s better to be safe than sorry.

If you have already publicly disclosed your invention before you were aware of this, there may still be some hope.  The patent offices in the USA and Canada (and a few other countries such as Brazil and Australia) will allow you to file up to 1 year after your public disclosure.  Unless you have already missed it, I would still recommend taking action prior to public disclosure rather than waiting until the end of the grace period, for various reasons.  Perhaps someone, somewhere in the world has independently developed an invention similar to yours and is planning on filing a patent soon.  If they beat you to it, you’re out of luck. Perhaps there is a large market for your product in Europe or another jurisdiction without a grace period. If so, even if you aren’t pursuing that jurisdiction for your own business, you could license the right to use your patent to a European partner.

Now that you know the first thing, what comes next?  Contact us for help evaluating whether or not investing in a patent application makes good business sense for you!