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How Well-Designed Patent Portfolios Protect Your R&D Investment

Your R&D (Research & Development) team invests significant time, money, and effort creating new systems. These systems often contain valuable inventions that provide a competitive advantage, attract investors, and increase company valuation.

Your entire R&D investment is wasted if you don’t have a strategy to build a patent portfolio that protects your critical inventions.

Patents protect the inventions produced by your R&D activities. A well-designed patent portfolio is a carefully chosen collection of patent assets that support your business goals and objectives.

Failing to protect your most valuable inventions with a patent portfolio means that your R&D team is working for your competitors. Without patent protection for your critical inventions, your competitors are free to use your inventions to compete against you without having to invest any time, money, or resources.

Don’t let this happen to your tech company.

Over the past 25 years working with hundreds of technology companies, we have developed a strategy for designing patent portfolios that protect your R&D investment. Our strategy:

  • identifies every invention created by your team (even the ones hidden in the minds of your team)
  • evaluates the inventions to prioritize the ones with the highest value to your company
  • protects your critical inventions that produce a high-value patent portfolio

When you implement this strategy, your company will build a patent portfolio that provides a competitive advantage, attracts investors, and increases company valuation. This protects your inventions and lets you decide whether to allow others to use those inventions.

Here’s a summary of the 3-step strategy that has created dozens of high-value patent portfolios.


The first step in building a valuable patent portfolio is to identify all of your company’s inventions. You can’t take steps to protect or evaluate your inventions if you don’t identify them in the first place.

Improve your company’s chances for success by encouraging innovative ideas and creating a steady flow of new inventions from your team. You can do this by training your team members how to identify inventions. Some techniques for identifying inventions include invention mining, invention contests, and fun brainstorming sessions.

It’s also important to provide a simple system for your team members to submit their inventions. Company leaders are often surprised by the gold nuggets of innovation hidden within the minds of their team members. You need a system to identify these valuable innovations.

In one example, our client in the communication industry had a large team of developers and engineers. But the company only had one patent after being in business for five years. Using our system, we quickly identified 11 inventions that their team members had created but didn’t realize they were inventions. By implementing several invention mining activities and brainstorming sessions, we identified another six inventions that had not been identified.

After evaluating those 17 inventions using the process discussed below, the company filed five patent applications to protect the most valuable inventions. This was the start of building a valuable patent portfolio that protects their R&D investment.


To create a high-value patent portfolio, it’s important to properly evaluate and prioritize all of the inventions identified by your team. I’ve seen too many companies ignore this crucial step and end up spending time and money preparing patent applications for mediocre inventions. The strength and quality of your patent portfolio depends on a thorough evaluation of all inventions.

The first step in evaluating your team’s inventions is creating an invention evaluation committee that includes people who perform different roles in the company. People with a diversity of roles will have unique perspectives regarding the potential value of an invention, the cost to develop and produce the invention, and whether the invention is consistent with the company’s goals.

When we help companies create an invention evaluation committee, we typically include people from the following groups: executive, engineering/technical, sales, marketing, and customer service.

After creating the invention evaluation committee, the company defines invention evaluation criteria that is consistent with the company’s goals, growth plans, and other factors. Example invention evaluation criteria may include:

  • feasibility of the invention
  • must-have feature
  • company goals (long-term and short-term)
  • company’s exit strategy
  • potential patentability problems
  • lifetime value of invention to company
  • defensive value (protect against litigation)
  • potential licensing value

The evaluation criteria is applied to each invention to prioritize the inventions that have the highest value to the company. By carefully evaluating your inventions with respect to your company goals and objectives, you are designing a valuable patent portfolio that protects your critical assets.

When working with one of our clients that designs and builds data storage systems, their goal was to build a valuable portfolio of patent assets to support their planned initial public offering (IPO). The client was going to be competing with some large, well-established companies in their industry. For this client, the evaluation process focused on inventions that provided a competitive advantage as well as inventions that could be asserted against competitors, if necessary.

The client designed and built a patent portfolio that included 42 assets at the time of filing for their IPO. This portfolio supported a very successful IPO for the company because they had strategically designed a high-value patent portfolio that gave them a powerful position in their industry.


To protect your R&D investment, you must build a patent portfolio that includes your most valuable inventions. Protecting the wrong inventions is a waste of time and money. Patents covering the wrong inventions are dangerous because they give you a false sense of security. For example, a patent portfolio with a large number of patents may seem valuable, but if those patents have minimal value, they are not likely to provide the protection and value you anticipate.

As you build your patent portfolio, it’s important to include inventions that cover four key categories:

  • core technology
  • critical must-have product features
  • future inventions
  • defensive inventions

Patents covering these four categories will collectively provide a barrier to entry for competitors and broadly protect your R&D investment.

These four categories are important because protecting core technology and must-have product features provide a competitive advantage by preventing others from using those inventions in competing products. You can significantly increase the value of your patent portfolio by protecting future inventions, such as inventions that will be essential in the future systems. Your team can develop these future inventions by looking at current industry trends and creating solutions to problems that will likely result from those trends.

Defensive inventions can be valuable by protecting against aggressive competitors. Patents covering defensive inventions reduce the likelihood of litigation and provide a cross-licensing opportunity if litigation occurs.

You have worked hard to assemble a team of talented people who create innovative products and give your company an advantage in the marketplace. Protect that investment in your team by protecting your core technology, critical must-have features, future inventions, and defensive inventions.

Protecting Large R&D Investments

Here are two examples of clients we worked with to protect large R&D investments by adding significant assets to their patent portfolio.

In one example, an automotive manufacturer wanted to expand into a new area related to autonomous vehicles. They were aware of several significant competitors and they were hiring a team of developers and scientists with advanced degrees. To protect their substantial R&D expense and defend against competitors, this client knew a well-designed patent portfolio was critical.

We assisted the client in cultivating inventions developed throughout their team, evaluating those inventions, and protecting the inventions with the highest value to the company. Over the course of several years, we expanded the size of their patent portfolio by more than 300 patent assets (issued patents and pending patent applications).

In another example, a client that makes inventory management systems was launching into a new online market. The new market included a large, well-established competitor. This client understood the importance of a strong patent portfolio to protect their competitive advantage and fend off the well-established competitor.

We worked with the client to protect all of their important inventions that secured their proprietary technology and must-have features that the competitor might want to copy. That client increased their patent portfolio by more than 500 patent assets, which provided strong protection against the competitor. Those patent assets protected the R&D investment in the new online systems and significantly increased the valuation of the company.


In many countries, it takes 2-3 years from filing a patent application to issuance of the patent. You can’t build a patent portfolio overnight unless you purchase patents that have already issued.

So, you need to get started designing your patent portfolio today.

My team and I have helped many companies implement the 3-step system described in this article. Those companies have valuable and expanding patent portfolios.

This system will work for your company too.

If you have an R&D department, I encourage you to schedule a free strategy call with me as soon as possible. During our strategy call, we will discuss your current situation and identify your most important next steps to protect your R&D investment.

Schedule your free strategy call at:

Contact Steve with questions at:

Space Tech Update – January 2023

I attended the AIAA SciTech Forum held on Jan. 23-27, 2023. AIAA is the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

The event featured speakers and panelists from a variety of space technology companies, organizations, and institutions. I attended many of the presentations and listened to panelists with a wide variety of backgrounds and expertise.

Here are my key insights and takeaways from this event.

Common Themes from Several Presentations

1. New design and development tools are accelerating product development in the space industry. These tools are handling more of the design tasks so humans have more time for creative thinking and innovation.

2. Artificial intelligence is helping with many tasks and will gradually become more integrated into space tech systems.

3. There’s a large variety of business opportunities fueled by public and private investments and new technology being developed by an increasing number of companies.


Which is your favorite idea?

I attended the Idea Challenge: Applying Aerospace Technologies to Solve Societal Problems presentation at the AIAA SciTech Forum today (Monday).

The event included presentations by three teams of young professionals – each team presenting their idea. Here are the three ideas:

1. Food Secured – Using satellite data and historical weather data to provide farming suggestions to increase crop yield and reduce water usage. Initial application in India due to the large population and significant need to improve food production.

2. Kidddney – Combining 3D Bioprinting with Microgravity to produce 3D printed kidneys for human transplant. The 3D printed kidney is expected to be created in one week, as compared to the current average wait for a kidney of 3.5 years.

3. CIA – A data sharing platform for underdeveloped countries. Connects people in rural areas with critical information, such as safety announcements, weather warnings, and availability of community services. Uses satellite data, cellular networks, and drones to share data throughout a country, such as the Philippines.

All three ideas are fantastic. Congratulations to all team members for working to solve important problems.


I attended five presentations at the AIAA SciTech Forum on Tuesday. Here are my key insights and take-aways.

1. Advancing Space Propulsion Technologies – NASA and DARPA will be collaborating on developing a Nuclear Thermal Propulsion system. They plan to test a new system by 2027.

The new propulsion system is expected to be significantly more efficient than chemical propulsion systems and provide faster travel to deep space and to Mars.

The program is named Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) and will demonstrate a nuclear thermal rocket (NTR) in orbit.

Stefanie Tompkins and Pamela Melroy discussed the details of the DRACO program.

2. Public Investors in the Future of Aerospace – This panel discussed various funding sources from NASA, AFWERX, SpaceWERX, and other organizations.

For example, NASA offers the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. SpaceWERX offers financial awards through the Orbital Prime program.

The panelists were Sha-Chelle Manning, DyanGibbens, Byron Knight, and Gynelle Steele.

3. Space 2050 – Nelson Pedreiro (Lockheed Martin Space) shared his vision of space in 2050, only 27 years from now.

His vision includes current activities and projects by Lockheed Martin. Nelson expects that highly automated design tools will shorten the design and development time required to develop new space technology and systems. This will allow new space technology to be developed more quickly.

One part of the vision for 2050 is the existence of a power and communication infrastructure. This will simplify the design of new space vehicles and space systems because they can access the power and communication infrastructure rather than having to design their own power and communication systems.

4. Private Investors in the Future of Aerospace – This panel provided many helpful tips to help space tech startups successfully obtain funding. Several panelists encouraged startups to fail fast and ask lots of questions so they continue to learn and grow. The panel members discussed different stages of funding and what to expect at each stage.

Startup leaders were encouraged to conduct their own due diligence when evaluating a potential investor in their company, such as whether the investor is a good fit with your company an if they can support the growth of your business.

The panel members shared that investors are looking for startup leaders with “grit” and persistence. They also stressed the importance of having a strong team with relevant business growth experience.

The panelists were Hailey Nichols, Sherman Williams, MislavTolusic, and Nicole Conner.

5. Innovation for Impact – Curt Carlson shared an approach to Innovation that focuses on a customer value proposition. He explained that addressing an important unmet customer need is critical to creating a new product or service. He discussed examples of companies that failed because they were not solving an important unmet need.

Curt also discussed an approach to pitching your idea that uses a hook to grab the listeners attention, then discusses the value proposition and the action you want the listener to take. It was interesting to watch several live pitches with feedback to the people presenting the pitches.


Did you know that satellite data is being used to fight wildfires, monitor climate changes, improve crop yields, and more?

On Wednesday, I attended the AIAA SciTech Forum Monitoring Planet Earth presentation. The panelists discussed how data is being collected by satellites, aircraft, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The collected data includes weather patterns, wildfire images, thermal information, and more.

This data is being used by companies and government agencies to help fight wildfires, understand how the earth’s climate is changing, and suggest farming activities (based on soil moisture levels, crop rotation, etc.) to improve crop yield. Machine learning systems can process this data to discover trends and make predictions that may identify the likely movement of a wildfire, predict climate changes in specific areas, and suggest farming activities.

The panelists were Al Tadros, Cathy Olkin, Rob Stevens, Barry Tilton, Marcus Johnson, Julie Robinson, and John Choi.


I attended several presentations at the AIAA SciTech Forum on Thursday. Here are my key insights and take-aways.

1. Accelerating Digital Technology to Transform the Aerospace Industry – Guillermo Jenaro (Acubed – Airbus Innovation Center) shared his thoughts on digital tools that reduce product lead time and reduce cost. His team is also working on autonomous flight systems and machine learning solutions for the next generation of aircraft.

He predicts that the next big disruptors are:

  • Artificial Intelligence advancements
  • Quantum computing
  • Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality

2. Addressing Increasing Complexity in Aerospace Systems – This panel discussed new types of modeling and simulation tools that assist with complex designs.

NASA’s key areas of digital transformation are: engineering, discovery, operations, and decision making. An important area for Boeing is applying digital solutions to legacy platforms.
Several panel members mentioned that digital tools are being used to help get answers to design/development questions fast. The panel also stressed the importance of lifelong learning because technology and tools are moving very fast.

The panelists were Michael Grieves, Sophia Bright, Jill Marlowe, Ryan Tintner, and Karen Willcox

3. Transformative Systems Engineering Success Stories – This panel discussedexamples of new products that were designed digitally using the latest digital design and development tools.

Digital twins are used to accelerate the design system and test new ideas quickly.

An example of successfully using digital tools discussed managing wiring harness design in complex space systems. The tools helped manage wiring harness placement throughout the design process.

The panelists were Marilee Wheaton, Jason Bartolomei, Don Farr, Olivia Pinon Fischer, and Corbett Hoenninger.

4. Humans and Autonomy – This panel discussed the need for both real-world testing and simulated testing of autonomous vehicles. Several panelists expressed their views that fully autonomous vehicles are several decades away.

The panel also discussed the importance of having humans quickly take control when unusual or high-risk situations occur. They also discussed the importance of keeping humans actively operating the vehicles so they don’t lose their skills.

The panelists were John Tylko, Kailah Cabral, Mary Cummings, Amy Pritchett

The AIAA SciTech Forum was a valuable event that shared exciting visions for the space industry and provided information about the latest advancements in space technology. I enjoyed the event and look forward to attending again next year.

4 Free Resources for Growing your Tech Company in 2023

As we begin a new year, I’m looking forward to helping tech companies grow and thrive in 2023. I’ve been helping tech companies for more than 20 years and I’m excited to continue those activities for many more years.

Although I work with technology clients 1-on-1, I’m also offering several Free resources to share my knowledge and experience with all tech companies:

1. InventLock™ Protection Guide for Tech Startups – This is a white paper that summarizes my 3-step system to identify, evaluate, and protect your company’s most valuable inventions. You can download the Free white paper at

2. Cracking the Patent Code – This is my first book that clarifies the patent application process and provides details about how to identify, evaluate, and protect your critical inventions to build a valuable patent portfolio. The book is written in plain English for tech leaders, inventors, investors, and anyone who is interested in protecting their key inventions. Download a Free PDF copy of the book at

3. Tech Leader Talk podcast – I interview successful technology company leaders, entrepreneurs, and experts from around the technology industry to share successes, challenges, and examples of what’s working now to build strong tech companies. The podcast has more than 80 episodes and is available on all major podcast apps, just search on “Tech Leader Talk” and look for the blue logo. Here’s the Apple Podcasts link:

4. InventLock™ Strategy Call – This is a complimentary 20 minute call with me to see if there’s anything you need to be aware of regarding your company’s patents or inventions. I will answer your questions about the patent process, such as when to consider patent protection, how to build a valuable portfolio of patents, and the 12-month patent filing deadline. Click this link to schedule your InventLock™ Strategy Call:

If you have any questions about growing your tech company in 2023, please email me at: Steve (at) SteveSponseller (dot) com. I personally respond to all questions. If I can’t answer your question, I will put you in touch with one of my connections who can help.

Are Your Space Tech Inventions Protected?

Patents that protect important inventions are valuable to space technology companies that depend on those inventions to stand out in their industry. In many situations, a portfolio of patents is a tech company’s most valuable asset.

A well-designed patent portfolio can provide a competitive advantage, increase company valuation, attract investors, and attract and retain key employees.

You can build a valuable patent portfolio by strategically patenting high-value inventions that protect critical product features and provide significant value to the company. Too many companies randomly patent mediocre inventions. This approach can be a waste of time and money.

Instead, space tech companies need to identify and prioritize all of their inventions, then select the most valuable inventions for protection with their patent budget. Building a patent portfolio isn’t a “numbers game.” The goal is a portfolio of high-quality, high-value patents that are significant assets for the company.

To build a strong patent portfolio, here is a 3-step system that’s worked for hundreds of clients over the past 25 years.

1. Identify Every Invention in your Organization

Before you run off and start filing patent applications, there are two steps you need to complete first: identifying and prioritizing your inventions.

Identifying every invention in your company includes looking at your existing products and current development activities. For example, many space tech companies will perform invention mining activities to identify all inventions in a particular product.

It’s also important to get your entire team involved in the invention process. Great ideas can come from any team member, not just the engineering/development department. Teach everyone in your organization how to identify inventions and encourage them to submit their innovative ideas.

You can also take steps to make inventing fun, such as invention contests and entertaining off-site brainstorming activities.

To make sure your team’s inventions don’t slip through the cracks, create a system for submitting and tracking inventions. The invention submission process should be fast and painless so employees aren’t discouraged from submitting their inventions.

I’ve seen too many companies with long invention disclosure forms that stop people from submitting their ideas. Keep it short and simple so you’re certain to capture every invention.

2. Prioritize your Inventions

Now that you have identified every invention in your organization, it’s important to evaluate and prioritize those inventions.

The value of your patent portfolio depends on a careful evaluation of all inventions.

I have helped many clients evaluate their inventions by first creating a group of team members who will be the evaluators. This group should represent multiple departments and roles in the organization, such as engineering, product development, marketing, sales, and executives. These different team members have different perspectives regarding the value of an invention, the development costs, and whether the invention is in alignment with the company’s goals.

The group of invention evaluators will regularly review the submitted inventions based on specific criteria. This criteria is aligned with the company’s goals and may include the lifetime value of the invention, potential patentability issues, and the defensive value of the invention.

Each invention is scored based on the criteria. The inventions are then ranked based on their score. The highest ranked inventions are prioritized for preparing patent applications, which can become issued patents that expand the company’s patent portfolio.

3. Protect the Best Inventions

The list of prioritized inventions are excellent candidates for protection via a patent application. The evaluation and prioritization process discussed above should filter out mediocre inventions that don’t provide significant value to your company.

A strong patent portfolio has a collection of patents covering inventions in multiple categories. For example, patents covering your core technology, critical must-have product features, future inventions, and defensive inventions provide well-rounded protection for your company. This protection can reduce the risk of litigation, provide a barrier to entry for competitors, secure your competitive advantage, and increase company valuation.

Your team has invested time, money, and expertise to create innovative products that differentiate your company in the marketplace. Secure that investment by protecting your best and most valuable inventions to create or expand your portfolio of patents.

You can start implementing the 3-step system discussed in this article today. Start by identifying and evaluating every invention in your company. Then, protect the most valuable inventions that add significant value to your patent portfolio. This 3-step system has worked for hundreds of companies and provides a path for you to begin creating your own high-value patent portfolio that strengthens your business.

Do you have questions about how to identify and protect your most valuable inventions? I can help.

I’m offering complimentary 20 minute strategy calls to help you determine what you need to be aware of regarding your company’s inventions or patents. I will answer any questions and provide suggestions for identifying and protecting inventions created by your team.

Schedule a complimentary strategy call with me at:


Invention Protection Resources for 2022

The beginning of a new year is a great time to review your systems for identifying and protecting the inventions created in your organization.

Here are three invention protection resources that can help you jumpstart your invention activities in 2022.

  1. Cracking the Patent Code – My book that explains a 3-step system to identify, evaluate, and protect your most valuable inventions. This is the system I’ve developed over the past 20 years and it’s the same system I use with all of my clients.  You can purchase the book in print or Kindle format on Amazon.  Or, you can download a free PDF version of the book at
  2. Invention Triage™ Workshop – I will be offering an online workshop for Tech Startups on January 25, 2022. This workshop will focus on my Invention Triage™ process that identifies patent filing deadlines for inventions developed in your organization and teaches you systems for avoiding “accidental” forfeiting of your patent rights. The workshop will help you “Rescue” inventions that would otherwise be lost due to a 12-month patent filing deadline.  Keep watch for the registration link and more details coming soon.
  3. Invention Assessment – This is an assessment of your company’s systems for identifying and protecting your most valuable inventions. The assessment includes:

Step 1: Evaluate your current systems for identifying inventions

Step 2: Evaluate your current systems for collecting and evaluating inventions

Step 3: Invention Triage™ process (mentioned above)

Step 4: Identify changes to improve identification and disclosure of new inventions

Step 5: Develop a company-specific plan for the next 12-18 months

If you want help with an Invention Assessment or have any other questions about identifying and protecting your inventions, contact me to schedule a Free Introductory Call.

Contact me via email:


Patents In the Age of Digital Transformation

(Note: This article was originally published by Business Transformation & Operational Excellence Summit (BTOES) at

Digital transformation is accelerating the innovation process across most industries. As a result of this transformation, companies are investing significant time and money developing new products. Many of these new products contain patent-worthy inventions distinguishing them from other products in the marketplace.

Patents protect your investments of time and money spent developing new products by allowing the patent owner to stop competitors from using protected inventions.

Converging technologies are accelerating inventions in many sectors. Exponential technologies are also creating inventions at a rapid pace. Today, more than ever, it is important to quickly identify and protect critical inventions because most countries, including the United States, have “first to file” patent laws.

Based on more than 20 years of experience working with companies to protect their inventions, I have developed a 3-step process to identify, evaluate, and protect your most important inventions. This process helps you build a portfolio of patents that protect your inventions, position your business as an industry leader, and provide a competitive advantage.

  1. Identify All Inventions

Before you can think about protecting your inventions, you first need to identify them. Start by teaching your team members how to identify inventions and giving examples of inventions created in your organization. Give your team members a simple way to submit inventions for evaluation by a review committee. A simple one-page document is easy to complete and ensures that inventions aren’t lost because the inventor didn’t want to take time to fill out a long, complex form. Implement a system to track these invention submissions so nothing slips through the cracks.

Be sure to incorporate the identification of inventions into your product development process. When a new product is finished, look back at the development process and identify inventions that were created. You can also consider invention mining and brainstorming activities. Try to make the invention process fun by including invention contests and creative ideation activities.

  1. Evaluate and Prioritize Your Inventions

You can’t afford to protect every invention, and some inventions are not worth protecting, so you need to prioritize. Create an invention evaluation committee within your organization to evaluate all inventions based on criteria unique to your company (e.g., based on company goals, growth plans, status of competitors, and exit strategy).

Schedule regular invention evaluation committee meetings based on the volume of invention disclosures received. At each meeting, evaluate all new inventions and assign a next step for each evaluated invention. Record these next steps and assign follow-up tasks for each invention.

  1. Protect the Right Inventions

When building a portfolio of patents for your business, it is important to develop four different types of patents to provide a barrier to entry by competitors.

  • Core Technology. These patents protect the unique features of your fundamental technology, framework, or systems. This core technology often represents the foundation of your products that gives you a competitive edge.
  • Critical Must-Have Features. These include special features that make your product stand out in the marketplace. By protecting must-have features, you can strengthen your competitive advantage by preventing other companies from offering these features.
  • Future Inventions. Strengthen your company’s future by looking at today’s industry trends and technology trends to predict future problems. Invent solutions to those problems now so you have broad patent protection when the rest of the world catches up.
  • Defensive Patents. Your portfolio of patents should include inventions that target your most aggressive competitors. Having some strong defensive patents in your portfolio may discourage litigation by aggressive competitors because you can defend yourself by asserting your patents against the competitor.

Patents can protect the great inventions created by your team. Take action to implement the 3-step process described above to identify, evaluate, and protect your most important inventions developed during this age of digital transformation.

Do you have questions about how to identify and protect your most valuable inventions?  I can help.

Contact Me to schedule a free introductory call.

Protecting Your Critical Inventions On A Tight Budget

(Note: This article was originally published by Entrepreneur Media, Inc. at  Copyright 2021 by Entrepreneur Media, Inc. All rights reserved.)

If your business relies on inventions to maintain a competitive edge, you need to keep the invention pipeline flowing even when funds are scarce. A slow economy or other business disruption doesn’t mean you can ignore critical inventions. If you don’t take timely action to protect those inventions, you may forfeit the right to file a patent application. That means other companies can freely use your unique inventions in their own competing products.

For example, U.S. patent laws have time requirements for filing patent applications. If your company publicly discloses an invention or sells a product with the invention, those activities can trigger a one-year deadline to file a patent application covering the invention. If you don’t act before the one-year deadline, you can forfeit your ability to obtain patent protection.

Don’t let limited funds prevent you from protecting key inventions.

To get the most value from a tight budget, here is a three-step system to protect your most valuable inventions.

  1. Invention Discovery

Before you can take steps to protect your most important inventions, you first need to identify every invention developed in your organization. An important first step is teaching your team members how to identify the inventions they create. An invention is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “something that has never been made before.”

A few inventions are revolutionary new products that disrupt an industry. In my experience, most inventions are incremental improvements to an existing product or system. Although the incremental inventions may not receive as much publicity, they can still provide significant value to your company.

One way to discover inventions is to identify obstacles that were overcome during product development. In hindsight, the solutions to the obstacles may seem simple, but consider the amount of time spent developing the solution. If no solution was readily available and your team had to create a new solution, that’s likely an invention.

Review your current work activities and recently completed projects to look for inventions. What was created that had not been done before? Add these items to your list of inventions.

Automate the invention discovery process by discussing inventions during all product development projects. For example, schedule periodic meetings to brainstorm about the inventions contained in the project. It’s easier to discover inventions when the project is still fresh in the minds of the development team. Be sure to schedule a final meeting when the product is complete to look back and be sure all inventions are identified.

Schedule regular brainstorming and ideation sessions to capture more inventions and maintain a steady flow of new ideas.

Now that you have developed a list of inventions, it’s time to identify the most valuable inventions on the list.

  1. Invention Analysis

All inventions are not of equal value. That’s why it is important to analyze your list of inventions to select the most valuable items for your company. When working with a limited budget, selecting the most valuable inventions provides the best ROI (return on investment) for your organization.

When analyzing your invention list, consider multiple factors to determine the value of each invention. For example, consider the competitive advantage provided by the invention. If a “must have” feature in your product sets you apart from other companies’ products, patenting that feature is valuable because the patent may allow you to prevent competitors from using that feature. In this case, your product has exclusive rights to that feature in the marketplace.

Also consider factors such as the feasibility of implementing the invention, the likelihood of obtaining a patent, and the ability of a competitor to design around the invention. If an invention is difficult to implement, you may be better off waiting until the invention is fully developed and tested. Some categories of inventions, such as certain software-related inventions, may be difficult to patent. If funds are limited, these inventions may not be the best candidates. And, if an invention is easy for a competitor to design around, a patent covering the invention will have little value.

After analyzing the list of inventions, identify the strongest candidates for patent protection. These top priority inventions should receive your budgeted funds.

  1. Invention Protection

You have two options for protecting your inventions.

A “traditional” patent application must satisfy various rules, content requirements, formatting requirements, and legal guidelines. This type of patent application often costs $10,000-$15,000 (depending on complexity) when prepared by a patent attorney.

When working with a tight budget, you may want to consider provisional patent applications for your critical inventions. A provisional patent application must satisfy the same invention disclosure requirements as the traditional patent application, but it is much faster (and much less expensive) to prepare. Provisional patent applications also have a significantly lower filing fee. The total cost of preparing and filing a provisional patent application is often $2500-$4000.

The provisional patent application does not mature into a patent itself. Instead, it gives the applicant 12 months to decide whether to file a traditional patent application. During those 12 months, you can test the invention in the marketplace, seek investors, and see if your business revenue improves. At the end of the 12-month period, you can convert the provisional patent application into a traditional patent application or let the provisional patent application go abandoned.

In some cases, you can combine multiple inventions into a single provisional patent application to stretch your budget further. By combining multiple inventions into a single provisional patent application, you can protect several important inventions while deferring a significant portion of the patent preparation costs. Each situation is different, so discuss this option with a patent attorney to see if it’s appropriate for your inventions.

Don’t neglect your inventions just because funds are scarce. Otherwise, you risk forfeiting your ability to protect those inventions. Use the above system to identify your most valuable inventions and consider provisional patent applications to protect those critical assets.

Do you have questions about how to strengthen your IP portfolio?  I can help.

Contact Me to schedule a free introductory call to be sure you are identifying and protecting your most valuable inventions.

Your Patent Clock is Ticking: 3 Activities that Trigger Patent Filing Deadlines

(Note: This article was originally published by Entrepreneur Media, Inc. at Copyright 2021 by Entrepreneur Media, Inc. All rights reserved.)

If your business develops inventions to maintain its industry leadership, you need to understand critical deadlines that may prevent you from protecting those inventions.

There are three important activities that automatically trigger a 12-month deadline in the United States for filing a patent application to protect your invention. In most situations, if you miss this deadline, you forfeit the ability to protect the invention. This means your competitors can freely use that invention in their products because you can’t protect it with a patent.

Unfortunately, many business leaders are unaware of this deadline and inadvertently lose potential patent rights to their inventions.

Too often, I’ve had to tell company leaders, “It’s too late to protect your invention.”

This news is particularly painful if the invention relates to the company’s core technology or critical innovation. Many leaders understand that patents are important, but are unaware of the 12-month patent filing deadline.

To avoid this forfeiture of patent rights, here are the three activities that you must monitor.

  1. Public Disclosure of Your Invention

If your invention is disclosed to the public, the 12-month deadline is triggered. Public disclosure of an invention can happen through trade shows, published white papers, online articles, public announcement (and description) of the invention, online video descriptions, and any other public activity that describes the invention. If you make a public disclosure, take action to file a patent application within 12 months of the earliest disclosure. If patent application costs are a concern, a provisional patent application can satisfy the 12-month deadline.

Be sure everyone in your organization understands this 12-month deadline. If someone accidentally makes a public disclosure of an important invention, encourage them to disclose it to company leaders so they can take appropriate action.

Although the United States offers a 12-month “grace period” after a public disclosure of the invention, many other countries don’t offer any type of grace period. So, although a public disclosure in the United States can be protected within 12 months, a better practice is to file a patent application prior to any public disclosure.

  1. Sale of a Product Containing the Invention

If an individual or organization sells a product that contains an invention, that activity triggers the 12-month patent filing deadline. If you don’t file a patent application within the 12-month period you forfeit your right to file a patent application covering the invention contained in the product.

Your organization can avoid this headache by performing an “invention check” before selling a product. This includes identifying any inventions contained in a product before selling the product to a customer. I’ve worked with many companies that add an “invention check” item as part of the final product approval process. This ensures that someone considers all inventions in a product and the company can take action to file a patent application if necessary.

  1. Offer to Sell a Product Containing the Invention

Similar to the sale of a product discussed above, merely offering to sell a product can trigger the 12-month patent filing deadline. Therefore, it is important to be careful when offering a product for sale even though the product may not be delivered until a future date. Just the offer, without an actual sale, can trigger the patent filing deadline.

In some cases, the offer to sell a product that includes an invention may require that the invention be ready for patenting. To be safe, assume that any invention in a product offered for sale is ready for patenting and the 12-month deadline is triggered.

I advise clients to perform an “invention check,” discussed above regarding the sale of a product, before offering a product for sale. By performing this activity prior to offering a product for sale, it typically covers sales of the product too.

Patents that protect critical inventions are valuable business assets. Don’t accidentally forfeit your patent rights by failing to identify the activities that trigger the 12-month patent filing deadline. Add reminders for these deadlines in the product development process and in the final product approval checklist. And, review all marketing materials, publications, trade show appearances, and other public activities to be sure that any deadline created by the public disclosure is recorded and monitored.

Get your entire team involved in this process and encourage them to disclose any activities that may trigger the 12-month patent filing deadline. I recommend designating a person or group within your organization to receive and monitor these important activities.

Do you have questions about how to strengthen your IP portfolio?  I can help.

Contact Me to schedule a free introductory call to be sure you don’t forfeit any critical patent rights.

Only 12 Months to Protect Your Critical Inventions

The last thing you want to hear is, “I’m sorry, but it’s too late to patent that invention.”

I’ve had to share this bad news with far too many business leaders during the past 20 years. This is terrible news for your company, especially when a critical invention is involved.

Even worse, most of the time the problem could have easily been avoided.

The 12-Month Deadline

The United States patent laws have specific timing requirements for filing a patent application.

If a company publicly discloses an invention or sells a product containing the invention, those activities may trigger a 12-month patent application filing deadline.

In most situations, if a patent application is not filed by the 12-month deadline, the company forfeits the ability to protect the invention with a patent.

Unfortunately, many tech company leaders don’t understand these patent filing requirements.

They recognize the importance of patenting inventions, but often let the filing deadlines slip through the cracks because they aren’t aware of the 12-month deadline.

That’s when I become the bearer of bad news.

Sometimes, though, companies get “lucky.”

In one case, a company’s product was first sold almost a year before our initial meeting, but we still had a little time to get a patent application filed before the 12-month deadline. 

This was a great outcome. But if our initial meeting had been scheduled just one week later, there would be no patent for that valuable invention. The invention is critical to the company because it’s part of their core technology that is disrupting the data communication industry.

Invention TriageTM Process

Fortunately, there’s a solution to forfeiting your patent protection – and it doesn’t even require being lucky!

The solution is my Invention TriageTM process.

How does it work? By identifying inventions and determining which ones are the most urgent and need to be handled first.

For example, inventions that are approaching a 12-month deadline are the highest priority.

The Invention Triage process is particularly important when you are just starting to build a patent portfolio or it has been several months since your team identified or evaluated recent inventions.

I recently started working with a computer hardware company that already had four issued patents covering inventions developed several years ago. However, after filing the initial patent applications, the company entirely stopped focusing on protecting new inventions.

Even though several new products were developed and released during the previous two years, no thought was given to identifying and protecting inventions in those products.

Our first activity was to apply the Invention Triage process to identify and prioritize all inventions developed since filing the initial patent applications. This process yielded five important inventions that distinguish the company’s products in the marketplace. We analyzed all of the inventions and had to eliminate three from consideration because they were past the 12-month patent filing deadline.

The remaining two inventions were carefully evaluated using criteria specific to the company’s goals and priorities.

The evaluation determined that both inventions represented significant value for the company, so they decided to file patent applications for both inventions to strengthen their portfolio of patents.

Although three of the inventions were already past the 12-month deadline, the company was able to “rescue” two of the inventions. If they had waited two more months to implement the Invention Triage process, all five of the inventions would have been forfeited due to the 12-month patent filing deadline.

Act Today

You only have 12 months to protect your invention after a public disclosure or sale of a product containing the invention.

After that time has passed, your patent rights are gone.

The Invention Triage process helps you quickly identify looming 12-month deadlines and take action to protect critical inventions.

Even if you have filed some patent applications, don’t assume that you have fully protected all of your most valuable inventions. Conducting a periodic analysis uncovers critical inventions that have not been protected. 

Without this process, those inventions may slip through the cracks and end up being donated to your competitors to use freely.

Does your business need the Invention Triage process? Let’s schedule a brief 20 minute call to find out.

Contact me to schedule your Free Invention Triage evaluation call.

Record-Breaking Year: 354,507 Patents Issued in 2019

The United States Patent and Trademark Office issued over 350,000 patents in 2019.  That’s a record number of issued patents in a single year.  The following link presents a graph showing the growth of issued patents over the past decade:

As you can see from the graph, the number of issued U.S. patents has been on an upward trend since 2008.  Nearly 3 million patents were issued from 2010-2019 – significantly more than any previous decade.

This data shows that technology companies are serious about filing patent applications to protect their valuable inventions. 

Is your company actively identifying new inventions and filing patent applications to protect those inventions?  If not, 2020 is a perfect time to change that situation.

How many of the 354,507 issued patents are owned by your competitors? 

Will any of your competitors’ patents prevent you from releasing new products or launching new features?

If your competitors are protecting their inventions while you neglect your intellectual property, you may face significant problems if those competitors can restrict your product development activities.

Is 2020 your year to start building (or expanding) your patent portfolio?  I can help.

Apply for a complimentary 20 minute Intellectual Property (IP) Strategy Session where we will review your current IP situation and identify actions you can take to build or strengthen your IP protection.

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