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Don't Believe the Hype About Patents

Posted by: Rod Kurtz on November 16, 2005

There’s a widely held myth — probably perpetrated by attorneys — that every business idea should be patented.

While it’s true that many businesses have struck it rich by patenting a great idea or invention, before you rush out and spend $5,000 to $10,000 in patent fees, keep in mind that not every idea is worth protecting. Many businesspeople waste a lot of effort protecting and fighting for ideas of dubious value. For example, it’s estimated that less than 3% of patented ideas are even commercially successful.

How can you tell if your idea is worth patenting? Certainly, if it’s an innovative idea that’s key to your business success — particularly, if your business relies on the sale or licensing of technology — you should contact an attorney who specializes in intellectual property and inquire about patent protection. A good patent attorney will want to know your chances of making money off your idea. If your chances are slim — for example, you cannot manufacture your product at a price that’s competitive — it’s rarely worth patenting.

If you’re confident about pursuing a patent, it’s essential to consult an attorney early on, since there are time limits (starting with when you first sell or publicly expose or publish your innovation) that can prevent you from obtaining patent protection.

And don’t forget the main rule underlying patents. “Protection” may not really protect you. You’re “protected” only if you’re willing to sue people who use your ideas without permission. Considering that lawsuits over these issues commonly cost $50,000 or more in attorney fees (and there’s no guarantee that you’ll get it back), it’s no wonder that many people find it too expensive to enforce their rights.

Richard Stim
Author, Whoops I’m in Business: A Crash Course in Business Basics
San Francisco, Calif.

Reader Comments


May 2, 2010 10:05 PM

I got my masters degrees from both Harvard and Wharton and I can say that I respect the value of a business degree more than any other generalist graduate degree. It provides ways to think about a problem. I think your focus on the word "administration" is myoic and uninformed. I would highly recommed business school and augument that education with another degree if one feels that is necessary for his or her future.


September 8, 2010 9:59 PM

Interesting points. I would like to suggest that the the initialism used for a degree means very little. I have a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics. "Art" certainly isn't the best way to characterize that degree.

I also fully disagree with your reactionary title, "The Value of a Harvard or Wharton MBA Will Slide to Zero. A New Masters of Business Design Should Replace it." These degrees have been tarnished by recent economic upheavals, but it is ridiculous to blame Harvard for the crisis. Economists who relied on overly assumptive models should own up for that. Besides, Goldman Sachs (filled with Wharton and Harvard grads) and Warren Buffet (who attended Wharton and Columbia) came out of the crisis smelling like roses.

Harvard is certainly taking the changing business world very seriously-there have hired a new dean who is revamping the curriculum.

"Design" is only one paradigm of thought that can be applied toward business. So can "analysis", "empiricism", "psychology", and other paradigms.

You did hit on a key point, though. The business leaders of tomorrow will need to be dynamic and prepared for uncertainty--certainly, the business degrees of yesteryear and their "old boys club" mentality have little place in the world. I'm currently applying to MBA programs and won't name names, but there are some programs that will not receive applications from me because of their old fashioned culture.

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