Software entrepreneurs know how important it is to align technology to customer needs and a solid business case. Why would your intellectual property (IP) be any different?
At a recent Invest Ottawa masterclass, IP Strategy for Software Technology, Principal and Patent Agent Jeff Leuschner at Smart & Biggar, explained why protecting your IP is a critical part of business success for software tech entrepreneurs.
Protecting commercially valuable ideas has been crucial since the industrial age. Back then, patenting an invention was fairly straightforward. In 1890 inventions were tangible and plentiful, so it was the perfect time for Smart & Biggar co-founders Russel Smart and Oliver Biggar to get into the patent business.
Fast-forward 130 years, and protecting technology inventions in the digital age is a little more complicated and needs a more nuanced approach.
That’s why adopting a protection mindset early on and developing a clear IP strategy is crucial for success. Working with IP experts at Smart & Biggar is a good place to start.
Thinking differently about your IP: Focus protection on commercialization
Many tech entrepreneurs have a unique way of thinking. Their creativity, inventiveness and adaptability are crucial for innovating and building a business. Those qualities may not create the mindset they need to protect their IP.
That’s where an expert like Jeff Leuschner comes in. He’s thinking about how innovative software companies can leverage their IP for commercial benefit every day. With more than a decade of experience as a patent agent, and a background in electrical engineering, he understands complex technology and can explain how to identify and protect valuable IP. If you’re feeling hesitant about how to best approach your IP, Leuschner can help.
One of his tricks is focusing on the difference between an invention and innovation, and the impact of commercialization.
“An invention is something that has never been made before, or the process of creating it,” Leuschner said. “An innovation is the act of introducing a product into the market to commercialize it.” He explains that the job of IP is to protect the innovation, not the invention per se. “IP protection should identify and protect the technical underpinnings of the value proposition.”
Thinking strategically about IP: The path from invention to commercialization
When you invest in protecting your technology and securing IP rights, you’re being strategic about growing your business.
Leuschner knows it’s good business to truly understand your market, the needs of your customers, and how your unique product or service benefits them and creates value. That’s why the user experience and the innovation behind your technology is where the rubber hits the road when it comes to crafting your IP strategy. You’re not setting out to patent the software itself, you’re patenting the results that benefit the user.
“When you’re thinking about patent protection in relation to your software, don’t get hung up on the ‘cool tech’ your engineers come up with,” said Leuschner. “Think about the user experience your customers really want, and see if you can find a way to protect the technical underpinnings of a unique and valuable user experience with a patent or related IP rights.”
Leuschner uses the “1-Click button” patented by Amazon as an example of how an innovative user experience can be protected with IP. “From a technical perspective, this [was] a boring invention,” he said. “But it protected what the customer wanted – a convenient and easy online shopping experience – and solved the ‘abandoned-cart problem’.”
Thinking long term: How to manage your IP from start to finish
So now that you’re thinking differently about your inventions and innovations, when is the best time to start?
Leuschner says talking to an expert at the concept stage for your new product or service is ideal. You’ll get a skeleton of an IP strategy that could even enhance and reframe your product development. If sharing your ideas early on sounds risky, don’t worry. Your conversation with Leuschner as a Canadian patent agent is privileged, so you can speak freely without concern.
Whether you’re ready to begin planning your IP strategy or still have questions, you can get started by booking a free 1-2-1 consultation with a Smart & Biggar expert during bi-monthly IP Clinics at Invest Ottawa. With both in-house technical and legal expertise, the patent agents and lawyers at Smart & Biggar can offer you advice and guidance on ‘end-to-end’ IP protection that will put your business on the path to success.
For more information, please contact a member of our Patents group for further guidance and assistance.
The preceding is intended as a timely update on Canadian intellectual property and technology law. The content is informational only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. To obtain such advice, please communicate with our offices directly.
This article, "Software secrets: Start with a clear intellectual property strategy to secure business growth" originally appeared in Ottawa Business Journal (OBJ) and has been reproduced with permission from the publisher.