It is a truth universally acknowledged that any tech startup wanting success needs to acquire a patent portfolio. Is that really true? Or is it just a fiction?
Whether a tech startup needs patents and an IP portfolio is an entirely different question to “should a tech startup file patents”? Unless you understand the difference between those two questions, you may waste hundreds of thousands of dollars, but today’s perceived wisdom is that it‘s money worth wasting. That perception isn’t new. When W. S. Gilbert penned the lyrics for Iolanthe, back in 1882, he had a character describe a colleague, observing that “his inventions may have enriched him by degrees, but all his little income went on patent office fees”. In the ensuing 140 years, the patent industry has worked very hard to perpetuate that status.
I’d argue that startups need to put far more thought into the value of patents and whether they really need them. Rather than adding value to a company, in many cases they are just a drain on cash, which a startup could use more effectively elsewhere, not least because a company lives and dies on its cashflow, not its patent portfolio. So, what’s the point of patents?