You cannot ignore IP protection, let’s say that again, you cannot ignore IP protection, but, having IP protection is not enough. The fastest wins in horse racing, car racing, the 100m dash, and yes, the fastest almost always wins in product development. Here is an example from my past experience of how the speed at which you develop can be the most important step for protecting your IP.
If you are not fast, you are vulnerable. This product development story is an example of a new product that was just that, something completely new to the market and not just a copycat with a couple of new features. The product solved a real-world problem, had an incredible pay-back timeline and had very good IP Protection. As a small business (the target customer), this product actually started saving you money after about week 4 of owning it. A no-brainer, as they say, a true solution product that is pretty rare in my experience. Let’s crack the Champagne!
Not so fast.
Sometimes good IP Protection can make you a bit lazy or worse, cocky. After all, IP protection is expensive, time-consuming, and sold to you as protection, so why wouldn’t you feel confident once you receive your new patent? Because you are not done yet. Good IP protection generally starts the next phase of your product development timeline, showing your product to the world and bringing it to market. Make no mistake, if you have created a winner there are some people who want what you have and I don’t mean they want to buy from you. They will pour resources into reverse engineering your product and they will try to get around your patent. Even when you have the legal upper hand and patent rights, you are still in a race. The time to speed things up is now!
So, that awesome product I was talking about earlier. In this case, after IP protection was established they started to take the product to the market. Trade shows in North America and Europe, meeting with distributors in North America and Europe, creating a website for direct sales to end-use customers, all the things one should do. Distributor meetings were awesome, they immediately saw that this was a winner and before too long a major distribution deal was signed. So, strong IP protection and a distributor deal, great, let’s start selling.
The problems started when they couldn’t deliver on final production product in a timely manner. They got 90% of the way and stumbled at the end. Too many revisions, too much tinkering, too much looking for perfection. How do you know what perfection is with something brand new? You don’t, at some point, you have to launch and the market will tell you how perfect your product is.
Long story short, the result of all the delays was that the distributor lost patience and confidence in the patent holder. They simply did not believe that the patent holder would ever get the product to market so they filed their own patent (going around existing patent) and brought the product to market themselves. Did they fully go around the patent in a way that could not be challenged? No way. In my opinion, they were clearly in breach of the patent and patently cheating. But by now it didn’t really matter, the rightful patent holders did not execute properly, they had no cash left for a patent fight. If the rightful patent holders would have sped up their product development, stopped tinkering and simply launched they would have been ok. Would they have had some manufacturing issues to sort out? Of course, but that is normal and part of product development. At some point, you have to say go and enter the market first to establish your rights.
So, for this story, what were the rightful patent holders left with? A valid patent, but, no deals, no revenue stream, and no money to fight for their rights, they simply ran out of cash. Speed (and not a lot of it) would have given them a win. You need to finish in product development. You need to deliver. You need to be fast to keep the vultures at bay.