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50 Shades of Patents: Why Isn’t Our Industry Sexier?

by: Tom Hochstatter, President

I’m struck by the proliferation of incubators, accelerators, and co-office unicorns across the US and the amount of attention they garner. In this shark tank frenzy we find ourselves in, not a week goes by that I don’t receive a flurry of emails calling on “entrepreneurs to submit their pitch” to the latest investor or pitch event.

Universities have jumped in head first, too – inviting their students, faculty and alumni to come to campus and hole up in their own co-office start-up incubators. The irony is the “prize” to draw start-ups in isn’t much more than cheap (or free) office space, some mentoring office hours, or the promise of a small seed investment.

That same small investment could get 2+ patents with actual, tangible value for either a fledgling start-up or for the world at large if, heaven forbid, the start-up fails. I’m not advocating that these are singular decisions and that an inventor or entrepreneur should have to choose one over the other.

I am advocating that those of us entrenched in the patent side of innovation need to up our marketing game significantly to surface brilliant inventors and their ideas right alongside the celebrated entrepreneurs and the vast number of vehicles to support their success.

Glutton for Punishment

Patents are hard work, expensive, procedurally complicated, and risky ventures.  They can take years to issue, may not even issue at all, and even when they issue, they may not survive third-party attack.  But, aren’t the perils of attempting to patent something similar to those faced by start-ups and entrepreneurs? A startup may even be riskier than attempting to patent something.

Relatively speaking, the odds are long on either endeavor. The difference: start-up folks focus on the possibilities of success; patent nerds like us, well we tend to focus on the mundane, the archaic, and government bureaucracy. Sexy, right? Nope.

We are the Eeyore of the business world. And here is where most patent folks would end the story, but not us. We are set on making patents and inventors a truly celebrated clan.

What can we do to get our sexy back? Well, we can stop hiding behind the actual grind of patenting and repackage our industry as the cradle of innovation it is - for starters.

The team and I have outlined a series of activities and events we can all get behind to celebrate inventors.

Pitch your Patent

1)    Promote Invention – either conduct start-up pitches that also focus on inventors with pending or granted patents, or create patent-focused events with prizes, mentorship.

2)    Provide Patent Help - real help to those folks that first pursued a patent to protect their ideas and are now interested in creating a business.

3)    Celebrate Inventors – focus on inventors in the here and now with promising new drug discoveries, or new battery tech. It doesn’t matter if the idea “doesn’t make it” – it’s about celebrating the journey too. Celebrated start-ups fail too, with regularity.

4)    Teach Inventorship - many universities and incubators teach entrepreneurship; we can make inventorship an integral part of every program.

5)    Teach Investors - dig a little deeper for “inventors”; we see brilliant inventors with truly remarkable ideas, but they also need to be partnered with the right business experts.

6)    IP-related Events – they can be fun, centered on social and not patent-only topics.

7)    USPTO – we appear to have a progressive, forward-looking Director in charge; we need to appeal to Mr. Iancu, his staff, and lobby hard for their support on the above.

Ok, so maybe these aren’t the “sexiest” of ideas to move inventors out from under the dark clouds of patenting, but their outcomes will lead to more interesting outcomes for patent-holders over the long term.

What are your ideas to bring patents to the fore? We’d like to hear your ideas or alert us to places where patents and inventors are truly celebrated.