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You dealt with the problem for years with your “work arounds”. As frustrating as they were, the work-arounds at least made the task a little easier or less problematic. Still, you always knew that there had to be a better way.
Then, one day, you found it.
Your better way inspired an epiphany, which became an innovation, which became an invention. Soon, you plan for your invention to be a product and a whole new business…
You’re going to get patent protection. You may already be in the process. But, let’s face facts… if your product is as much of a game changer as you plan for it to be, then someone is going do anything they can to compete with you. Often, that means your future competition is going to seek to design around your patent.
Some clever person, or a team of people, is going to discover another way to do what your product does. Their solution may not be quite as good as the first solution. But, they will have a way around your IP, and they may have a clear path to get a competing product on the market.
That’s right. You should work hard to design around your own patent, and you should start early in your product development process. If someone is going to ‘knock you off’, why shouldn’t that person be you?
If you’re like me, and like most inventors, it’s easy to get a little bit blinded by your own idea. Sometimes it can be challenging to think of other ways to do what your product does. After all, your idea is the best! How could another idea possibly compete?
But it’s very important to ask yourself… ‘how else could someone do this thing that my product does?’ If your product or business is successful, other people will be asking that question about your product and your intellectual property.
Patents and intellectual property notwithstanding, ideating and brainstorming alternatives to your own product idea is a very valuable exercise. If done objectively, this ideation can yield improvements to your idea, and that can make your product better and your business more successful (but that’s a topic for another post). More relevant to this topic, you can build a list of alternative embodiments that your patent attorney can add to your intellectual property claims.
A thorough list of alternative embodiments helps your patent attorney build a stronger wall of protection around your core idea. You may never intend to do anything with these alternative versions of your product, but adding them to your patent claims helps to prevent others from using them to compete with you.
Several times in my career, I’ve been called on by my clients to help them ‘design around’ their own ideas and products. In many cases, this exercise led to some great ideas that became future products, or improvements on future generations of products. In some cases, we were able to equip our clients’ IP counsel with enough ammunition to add dozens of claims to the patent filing.
One of my clients even generated meaningful revenue through this process. My team worked with them to identify a number of alternative embodiments, which they were able to add to their patent filing. Another company (unintentionally) infringed one of these claims after the patent was issued, but before my client’s product reached the market. Since this particular infringing product wasn’t a competitor, my client had no interest in keeping it off the market. Instead, the two companies worked out a licensing arrangement, resulting in revenue for my client before their product even launched!
As you think about patenting your invention, consider that the problem your invention solves may have multiple solutions, and that there will probably be other people working on the problem too (if they aren’t already). Try to expand your thinking such that your intellectual property can include as many alternative solutions as possible.
Product QuickStart provides strategic consulting, product development, design, engineering, prototyping, and manufacturing services for inventor-entrepreneurs, start-ups, and early stage companies. Please contact us for more information.
This writing represents the personal thoughts, opinions, and viewpoints of Noah McNeely, and does not necessarily reflect the views of Product QuickStart.
Principal, Product QuickStart