Boy, this ones going to get me in trouble - but here we go.
IP ain't worth crap.
I just finished a bunch of work-arounds, that is I looked at several different patents and for each figured a way to do the same thing that didn't violate the original patent's claims. In a couple of them I came up with novel and unique ways to do the same thing that weren't covered so I created new IP. In effect I rendered the original patents useless. So with guys like me around what good are patents, especially to the entrepreneur?
In fact they have tremendous value, but not as patents. The most powerful patent is a Provisional Patent. Provisionals are vague and indeterminate; no one gets to see them (unless you are so foolish as to show them to someone, in which case you deserve what you get) so no one knows what you are doing. You have a year to turn them into a real patent so you can say patent pending immediately on your product or process and even I can't do a work-around because you have not been granted any claims for me to work with. After you file no one really knows what claims the USPTO will give you, and your original claims may be modified, so it is still a minefield.
Patents take years to be granted, you can hassle with office actions for 4 or 5 years if you want (look up submarine patents (nothing to do with underwater boats)). If you are an entrepreneur in a hot field the real value, by the time you get the claims granted the technology or process will probably have been obsoleted by the market and not used in your product anyway.
IP does impress investors, gives them lots of security. IP impresses corporate folks because they live in fear anyway. IP impresses acquisition folks, IP is a great vanity device, for you personally and the company in general. IP's value is intellectual and emotional security more than technological reality. It gives you an asset out of nothing in the early stages of your business. It is a rallying point for everyone who doesn't understand its reality.
This truth should give you confidence. It's like the Emperor's Clothes, knowing truth you can then use it to your advantage and not be taken in by others.
Oh yeah, watch out for all those patent professionals and consultants, their views are self motivated, use them to your drive your goals but don't be taken in. You and your patent attorney must scheme to use everyone else's beliefs to your end. It's the idea of the IP that's what makes it so valuable. Like most things, it's the illusion as it appears in everyone else's mind that is the real power.
copyright Barry W Thornton 2008 all rights reserved