Friday, June 04, 2010

Marketing and Enforcing Your Intellectual Property – An Inventor’s Manifesto

It is truthfully said that a piece of property, whether tangible or intangible, is only worth what someone will pay for it. However, if potential customers do not know the piece of property exists or how good it is, or how they can use it to their best advantage, the piece of property is still worthless.

Likewise, if a piece of property can be stolen or misappropriated by anyone without payment to the owner, that property is equally worthless – no one will pay for something they can get for free, without fear that anyone will pursue them for payment.

This principle is as true for patents and other forms of intellectual property as for a piece of land or a car – perhaps even more so. An inventor might have the best idea in the world and think that, as a result the world will come to his door with bags of gold for the right to use his invention, but as he will quickly discover, until he markets his invention – just like any other product – no one will pay him for his fantastic invention. And, until he decides to enforce his patent rights, the world will rip him off with impunity.

Far too many inventors spend years developing their inventions and thousands of dollars applying for patents without aggressively pursuing the next step – marketing their invention like they were selling a product. Far too many patent owners look helplessly on while large companies use their inventions without paying the “reasonable royalty” the U.S. Congress mandates.

The only solution is for inventors, the companies and universities that employ them to take action to ensure that their rights are fully protected and theat they get all the compensation they are entitled to for their invention.

Accordingly, I propose the following principles for this inventor manifesto:

1. Every invention must be protected from those who would steal it.

It is the job of the inventor and his employer to make sure that every available form of intellectual property protection is employed to ensure that no one uses the invention without payment. If you don’t know how to protect your invention – whether it’s a patent, trade secret or copyright – find out and get it done. If it was worth putting the time into developing, it’s worth spending the money to protect.

2. Every invention must be marketed like Apple

If no one knows about your great idea, no one will buy it or license it – simple as that. If the invention is not being used exclusively to support the inventor’s company monopoly in its product, it is the job of the inventor or his company to find the very best home for that invention -- someone who can utilize that idea for the greatest possible product. Being shy about promoting yourself or your great idea betrays the hard work you put into developing this idea in the first place and deprives the marketplace of the use of your great idea. Steve Jobs isn’t shy about finding the best possible market for Apple’s innovations – you should have the same enthusiasm for yours.

3. Intellectual property rights must be decisively enforced

Intellectual property rights – particularly patent rights – give the owner a monopoly on their use. However, those rights are worthless if they are not enforced. You may need to hire a lawyer to inform those who are using your patent that they are in violation of your sole rights and that they must “cease and desist” immediately. You may need to sue these infringers to protect your rights in your invention. You must be prepared to do this – and do it firmly and decisively – if you take your invention seriously and are willing to stick up for your rights in that invention.

Infringers and their flacks in the media will call you a “patent troll” and claim that you are “abusing the system” by asserting your legal right to stop infringers from stealing your invention and to be compensated for their infringement. Ignore them. These epithets should be reserved for those companies who scoop up other people’s patents for the sole purpose of bringing a lawsuit – people who have contributed nothing to the economy. The true innovators should proudly assert their patent rights against those who would appropriate them without compensation.

Patent owners who are not willing to let their years of work go to waste and be freely appropriated by their competitors and other sharks in the marketplace must sign on to and dedicate themselves to following this manifesto.

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