Are patents worthless if you can't afford to protect them?

Everyone knows about patents and their general purpose but I’ve recently read in MANY different places that getting patents on independently invented products is useless if you can’t afford to “protect” the patent. By this I mean, if you can’t afford the costs of litigation to protect the patent in the event it is infringed upon, you shouldn’t get the patent in the first place. Basically, if you don’t have around $100,000-$200,000 dollars available to pursue patent infringement, what good is it to have the patent in the first place??? It makes complete sense and would eliminate a lot of steps in the product creation process. Is there any truth to this line of thinking? Any help is greatly appreciated.

Yes there is a level of truth to it, especially when it comes to design patents (vs utility patents) since there is a lot of subtlety between direct knock-off and “so close to knocking you off but you can’t do crap without a courtroom of expert witnesses”. There’s also the ability to enforce patents across country lines which is harder if not impossible these days with China willing to knock off anything.

It really comes down to your idea, what the level of novelty is, and being able to get a level of market success so that patents are a fallback, or a warhead against competitors.

I wouldn’t advise specifically not getting a patent because of legal fees (the concept of a patent in itself means your idea has commercial value, which means if you were selling it as a product you’d be making money that could be used to enforce the IP) and it is still a definite deterrent even before you go to court, but patents in themselves are not foolproof.

Without making a ton of generalizations your best bet would be to discuss it with a patent lawyer, since you probably don’t want to disclose it on a public forum if you’re worried about it.

If you investigate any source of investment a standard question is whether you own the intellectual property, including from venture capital, small business loan, invoice factoring, co-development partnership or business acquisition.

Contrary to popular media hyperbole on the current software patent mess, many companies perform due dilligence IP investigations during product development or are just aware of intellectual property extant in their specific market technology, and do design around it to not infringe.

Probably your government has some type of research and development tax benefit programs. A patent or pending is quite convincing evidence to support these claims.

Lastly, lets parse your question. Is it worthwhile to do any design if you might not be able to afford to manufacture it?

How do you protect a patent from being copied overseas? Patents only apply in the US (you could however file the patent in each country that you want protection in) so that’s one thing to consider… I think the big thing is though that just having the patent is probably enough to scare another person from potentially ripping you off. A burglar probably wouldn’t try to break into your house if he saw a security system sticker on each of your windows, right? A potential copier doesn’t know how much money you have in the bank to defend your idea so I think even if you can’t afford to back it up, it could still be worth going through with.

from what I’ve heard around the water cooler…

Next spring US patent law reform takes effect, so you may want to look into those changes.
The current US patent is not recognized in the rest of the world, correct. For that you need an international patent, which is recognized as prior art in the US.
China disregards IP as a rule.
Broad patents are difficult to defend and narrow patents are easy to work around. Best bet is to bundle the ideas around your central idea together so that implimenting anything is a violation.
I know that may not help, but good luck anyway.

Patents have other uses other than stopping third parties copying your designs; my company uses IP for the following: -

To allow entry into a market that requires products/design with IP (our industry is regulated in some territories, especially ones which carry government subsidies).
To remover barriers to market (i.e. by having a patent it means that we are not infringing anyone else’s designs and are therefore free to trade).
To create a portfolio of IP that is of value to current/potential investors in the company.
To support marketing efforts/collateral - ‘patented product’, or ‘patent pending’ carries weight in the eyes of the customer.
To gain recognition/awards - out patented products have helped us get a Queen’s Award for Innovation.
A history of patents/IP gives us credibility when applying for grants and other external funding.
We are in the UK, so profits from patented products receive a tax break.

So for us at least, definitely not worthless :smiley:

Back to the original question: it depends on what you mean by “defend”. Patent trolls have made millions on just sending out letters asking for money to avoid litigation. If you can find 3-4 knock-offs and get them to give you $50k each with little more than a letter, you’ve already turned a profit.

If your goal is to actually start suing people in the hope that they give you $30 million and cease copying you product, you’ll need deeper pockets.

As for the international aspect, it gets complicated fast. You can get a patent in China, but Chinese law requires you to apply there before any other country. In Canada, you have 5 years after getting a patent in another country to file here (and another 5 years to actually process the patent).

Also, consider shipping. If your knock-off artist ships through your patent country, there are legal process to hold the shipment.

New study out today comparing costs and benefits of acquiring a patent:

We find that costs exceed benefits overall and that the gap between costs and benefits has grown across time.