When, strategically, to start thinking about patents.
Because startups are typically thinking in terms of funding stages, let’s use the same methodology;
At the pre-seed level, which is the earliest phase for a startup, you’re mostly trying to work out the fundamentals of your concept, in search for product-market fit. If you’re using the lean startup methodology, you’ll likely start with an MVP and pivot your way to a more refined product. At that stage, you should not be thinking about patents because;
- It can be really expensive
- You don’t know what your post MVP product will look like. Think about it, how can you patent something without knowing what that thing will be 5–10 years down the road?
At the seed level, your concept is more refined & you have a better idea of what your proprietary technology is. This is when you should begin to think about your patent approach. You should consult with an attorney who has experience within your vertical & start drafting a plan of action around, not only your current solution but for where you see your product moving down the road. But, at the seed level, you’re still cash strapped & a patent portfolio worth investing in can be really expensive.
At the seed stage, you should maybe think about securing the date with a provisional application & if you have the money, start applying for some of the more important patents.
A big part of a seed-stage is to get to the Round A, & two of the most important questions a round A investor will ask is
- What proprietary technology do you have?
- What’s your barrier to entry?
Answering those questions with, ‘I have a patent filed’ will only increase your chances of securing a venture investment.
Final answer: you should start at the seed/round A level once you have product-market fit.
Side point: There is a lot of value an early startup can gain from a patent search — even if they’re not thinking about filing their own yet. You can identify competing technologies in your space, visualize the competitive landscape & more.
A great place to do it is ipcypris.com