Patents: As Strategy or Tactics?

I was recently asked by a company leader if I think patents should be a part of a company strategy, or should patents be a tactic used to increase protection and increase profit.

In private practice I worked with many clients who used patents as a tactic - thinking that just getting one or two would give them the leverage to beat their competition.But, in the new world of rapid technology changes, using patents tactically like that is not going to do it.


Chess is a game of overall strategy to capture the opposing playerÕs King.Through the game there may be several tactical moves that may result in a temporary win, but the overall strategy to capture that King is the overall guiding aim.

In my experience, patents are similar to capturing the opposing King in chess.If a organizationÕs guiding aim is to secure protection in a set of innovations, (and yes, I purposely wrote "set of innovations") the workers know what they should be striving for in their projects.They know that each and every project funnels into and towards the aim of gaining protection so the products or services of the organization can be sold at a greater profit.This also means that the organization will educate the workers to understand patents and know why the organization seeks to find protectable innovations. 

Without this guidance from leadership, the workers arenÕt really sure what they are striving for or when they have achieved it.It would be like playing chess and being unaware which of the opposing pieces should be sought and captures.Sure, by tactically capturing opposing pieces one by one, and not looking beyond your next play, you may win the game, but think how much more efficient and fun it is if you knew what you were seeking in the first place. 

Likewise, organizations may stumble across patentable innovations from time to time.But without leadership setting it as part of the strategy, there is often little recognition or understanding by the workers of patentable innovations.And this means there is a lot of profitable technology being lost within an organization.

And PWC study determined that 70% of most organizationÕs assets are in intangible (intellectual) property.I think most leaders would want to make it a guiding principle of all workers to grow that 70% value.Is that really something to be left to mere tactics?It seems to me that I would want it a goal of every worker to help grow the value of that 70%, and that would mean gaining more intellectual property like patents.

We recently worked with a commodity-based organization that has been around for many decades, and acknowledged it only had, maybe, two patents.When the leadership chose to overtly state in its strategy that projects must have protectable innovations, the workers developed almost a dozen protectable products in a matter of days.The workers understood what they should be achieving, and as such, didnÕt stumble upon protectable innovations, but instead strove for them, knew when they achieved them, and could move on to capture more.

So, it is my experience that finding patentable innovations that give a business edge to an organization must be part of strategy, so employees know what they are striving to achieve.