Apple versus Samsung has been one of the biggest patent fights I can remember, with it looking like Apple is the big winner right now. But patents matter to small businesses too.
Let’s start with a brief history lesson.
Patents have come a long way since their first appearances in 18th century America. Simple rights to a specific invention or idea – anything from a more comfortable horse saddle to a more efficient way to grind salt – have become massive, company-wide lawsuits and enormous high-stakes battles to the rights of a new idea and improvement. Any company with a focus on a new and improved way to be more efficient, profitable, and simply “better” in an area absolutely needs to know how the modern system of patents has changed, and how it can affect your business today.
What is a patent?
Simply put, a patent could be described as a piece of intellectual property. Anything – an idea, an invention, an improvement, a business method – can mostly be interpreted as an idea that can be reserved by the makers or pioneers of it. The idea of patents is centuries old, and has been useful for countless businesses and inventors to market and sell their ideas.
In the past 10 years, we’ve seen a big change. Patents and rights have become so blurred in so many gray areas that it can be extremely easy to accidentally step one someone’s toes, so to speak, and essentially “take” their patented idea. This has happened so many times in recent business history – whether accidentally or intentionally – that companies like Samsung have been on the losing end of a billion-dollar lawsuit over something as minute as the ridges of a smartphone.
How can you keep your small business safe from costly, bankrupting patent lawsuits?
First, you need to know down to the letter which patents your company owns (if any) and precisely what you are entitled to develop under your patents.
Second, spend a little time and money researching which patents competitors – big and small – have regarding the topic in question.
Third, never assume smaller companies won’t be tenacious in protecting their patent ideas. There are even websites and programs you can use to search for patents on ideas and inventions you are considering, as well as business insurance options that will protect you from unknowingly overstepping patent boundaries.
Last but not least, always be aware of new and developing companies within their trade to know who has the patent to what.
Spending a little time and money up front, to remain up to date with the latest patent news could save you thousands of dollars in a legal battle, and avoid your business from going down in flames thanks to a nasty legal battle.