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Patents – Intellectual Property as Competitive Advantage

Patents – Intellectual Property as Competitive Advantage

As a patent and trade dress owner, my favorite competitive advantage is intellectual property. There’s no better way to keep your competition at bay than with intellectual property that literally keeps them off the market, at least for a set period of time. It allows a business the time and space to make as much as they can in profit. 


You don’t have to have a patent to sell a product, but having a patent does exclude others from selling the same product, and it gives you an instant competitive advantage. The patent gives your business a valuable asset, and the more the customer needs that product, the more valuable the patent will be. With a valuable patent you’re able to charge more for your product and increase your market share.


The Patent and Trademark Office defines a patent as being “new, useful, and non-obvious”. For that reason, all inventors are innovators, but not all innovators are inventors.


The three types of patents are: utility, design, and plant:


Utility patents are granted to inventors who discover or invent a new and useful process,  machine, or software, or a functional improvement to an existing invention.


Design patents protect an invention’s design, shape or improved ornamental appearance. I was able to obtain a design patent on my wrist water bottle because of its unique shape. It’s a contoured bottle that fits on top of the wrist.


Plant patents are given to an inventor who has discovered or invented a new variety of plant. The U.S. Plant Patent Act wasn’t established until 1930. In order to be granted patent rights, the plant must have been asexually propagated.  Rose bushes and apple trees are common examples of plant patents.


Here’s what patent agent Allen Hertz has to say about the patent process:


Do all products need to be patented?


Not all products can be patented. You should try to protect your product utilizing any and all possible means, including patents, copyrights, trademarks, and even domain names. Each has its own unique benefits and limitations, and you should contact an intellectual property attorney for guidance, as each situation is unique. You need to insure that you’re not infringing on other patents.


What is a provisional patent, and should you start with that first or go straight to a regular patent?


A provisional patent is essentially a registration with the government that you have a product you are desiring to patent. This process allows you to continue development on your product while having some patent pending protection. There are some drawbacks that one needs to consider before filing a provisional patent. A provisional patent is not considered “a reductio to practice”, whereas a utility patent is. This could be a factor should you be involved in an interference against another inventor’s application. You could effectively gain up to one year of protection using this process. A provisional patent should really be written and submitted as close to a non-provisional as possible to ensure the non-provisional requirements are met. 


Should you keep an inventor’s notebook, and does that give you any legal protection as the first person to come up with the idea?


Absolutely. Documentation is a key asset in the U.S. for determining rights and ownership. A proper logbook would be considered legally binding evidence. 


When you do get a patent should you license it to your own corporation or not? 


Each case is unique and needs to be considered as such. If multiple inventors are involved, the patent should be assigned to a company and the inventors should draft an agreement between themselves early on. 


What happens to patent rights if you file if you file with someone else and the business relationship breaks up? 


It’s critical to have things in writing from day one. The more that is discussed and documented in advance, the better the relationship will be long term.


How many people can you license your product to?


It can be an exclusive with one party or infinite numbers.


Should you give full license rights to one company or many different ones?


Each agreement is unique and needs to be considered on a case by case basis. One thing to remember, once you enter into a non-exclusive agreement, it is extremely difficult to pursue and exclusive agreement with another party.


If you want a strong and long-lasting competitive advantage in your business, a patent is one of the best ways to do it.



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The Future of Newspapers

The Future of Newspapers

The thing about innovation is that people are inherently resistant to change. That’s never been truer than in the newspaper industry. And, I mean, who could blame them? For decades newspapers were raking in such enormous profits it was literally like printing money. Pun intended.


Nobody in that position wants the gravy train to end. So, even when the gravy train was slowing down, many people in the industry were still in denial. “Oh, it’s just a phase. It’ll pick back up.” Instead, the patient has been hemorrhaging for quite a while now.


Subscriptions and advertising have been slowly dying off over the past few years. This has been the business model since the beginning, so looking beyond that business model that had been such a cash cow has been hard to let go of.


Since the Internet was becoming more of a place where people got their news, it would seem to make sense to just take the print version and put it online, then sell subscriptions and advertising there. But that was easier said than done. The public was now used to free content and having access to it 24/7.


I recently delivered an innovation keynote speech to 700 executives at the Mega Conference on the future of newspapers and learned quite a lot about an industry that seemed to have a simple and very effective business model. When the old business model isn’t working anymore, it’s time to start innovating. Time to look for new markets and new ways of doing business if the industry is to survive. But innovation in the newspaper industry has been incredibly slow.


The newspapers that are doing well are great at local coverage. They can do local better than anyone. Local people, local places and local events. Small and mid-sized businesses represent the largest growth opportunity in local markets. But traditional advertising solutions aren’t working for them.


Not all newspapers are suffering. Many are actually making money, especially the small town newspapers who have the only game in town. TV host Maury Povich, found out when he bought the Montana newspaper the Flathead Beacon, that it would take more than just putting out a print version of a newspaper to generate income. After 9 years he says he is almost breaking even on it. But he has also purchased a local glossy magazine and a marketing firm, which he has integrated with the newspaper. This is the kind of creative thinking newspapers have to have in order to stay in business and ahead of their competition.



Another way newspapers have expanded is by innovating within their competitive advantage. They have two major things that could be capitalized on… their brand name and audience.


Building a brand name takes time and a newspaper that has been around the community long enough to develop that brand name has something of value. People like them and trust them.


Another asset they have is their audience. Again, it takes time to build an audience, and that audience is worth money. One thing many newspapers are doing is to put on events those audiences want to attend.


Events seemed to be a buzz that permeated throughout the conference, and is starting to be seen as a new, additional revenue stream. Those small businesses who used to just stick an ad in the newspaper now want to connect with their own audiences in a more intimate and personal way. Event sponsorship is one way to do that. Small business sponsorship is an untapped area for newspapers.


Many small businesses don’t even know about sponsorship. In my experience, small businesses often think that they have to invest millions of dollars to play in that game. But a small business could sponsor a local event for very little. And their return on investment is good because they are reaching a very targeted audience.


Disruption is occurring in all industries. The newspaper industry has had the same business model for many years. And that’s worked just fine… until now. If you don’t learn how to innovate within your industry, you risk being made irrelevant. But the good news for the newspaper industry is that opportunities are everywhere. It just takes getting out of your comfort zone to find them.


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