初创企业能提前打算吗？投资者应该让它们这样做吗？Previously, we have discussed patents and their ability to stimulate or hinder inventions in universities. Start-ups, however, are different, and want patents for a variety of reasons. Any company would want a patent to protect its IP from competitors, generate revenues, and to defend itself when attacked. Start-ups, however, use patents as a signal to investors and a value-increasing factor. Research has shown that patents will help companies raise money and significantly increase their valuations at any stage, including the IPO. Both the founders and the investors are very aware of that, and therefore they are willing to invest significant sums in patent development, and approach advisors to help them invent and strategize.
The problem is the frame of mind. Start-ups are about execution; they are deadline driven. There is always an emergency, a crucial meeting, an important version, something that consumes all of the energy. People work really hard on the “here and now” knowing that if they don’t, there will be no future. Patents, on the other hand, have no real immediate deadlines. They will be granted in a year or three, and will only then have a strong impact (beside the signal they convey). Thus, to get good patents, one needs to spend time now thinking on what will be important in the distant future, and which patents would we like to have for the company two rounds from now. This type of thinking is not for the founders, and needs to be done with the most senior people, whose time is usually most costly.
It is not rare for a startup to have the funding for an advisor, but not the time to talk to him. The founders’ time is the most coveted resource. A brainstorming has to be created, in which the founders, the investors and the technical people participate, asking the following questions: if the start-up is where we hope it will be in two years, what would it be selling then? What is the next product after the current one, or even two down the road? How would the market behave then? After this discussion we can come up with the right patents that would make a big difference when granted in two years’ time.
This discussion is very important and useful for the company, and the inventions that come out of it are the most valuable. The investors need to encourage the founders to engage in this type of strategic thinking – it will not happen otherwise. As talk is cheap, what they need to do is set up those brainstorms, participate and drive the long-term process. If the founders see that the VC’s are putting their precious time in improving the long term prospects of the start-up, they will participate and the results are likely to be very valuable.
Just to be clear, this is not about the likelihood of the patent succeeding. Rather, it is about the evaluation of the company four years down the road, when it succeeds. As this is usually more of a concern for the investors than the founders, they are the ones that have to drive this process.
Dr. Shmuel Ur is the founder of Ur Innovations Ltd. A former IBM Master Inventor in Research, he has been engaged for the past six years in helping start-up companies to build a good IP portfolio. He was a team leader at the Univenture 2015 workshop held by CIV. Shmuel also collaborates with Intellectual Ventures as an inventor, and sold 50 of his ideas so far.