So, you have decided that patents should be part of your business strategy. You have a couple of ideas or even a few patent applications filed with the Patent Office. The patent attorney you met at a networking event seems to be doing what he is supposed to. Your patent applications are as incomprehensible as all of the others you have seen and his bills have only been slightly higher than what you expected. The part that is driving you crazy is the amount of your time it has taken. You have other responsibilities and you are suspicious that letting your patent attorney manage himself is not a wise idea. Large companies have in-house counsel or entire IP Management groups. You don’t. How are you going to manage this stuff without driving yourself insane?
Good patent management starts with people. Don’t try to do it all yourself. There are many responsibilities to be handled and few of them justify the time of a senior executive (even or perhaps especially in a small company). You also shouldn’t expect to outsource it all to your patent attorney. It is a capability that your business needs to build if you are serious about patents as a business asset.
Patent management roles are not really different than any other area in your business. In small companies, the roles may be handled by one or two people. In bigger companies, there may be a larger team, most of whom have responsibilities outside of the patent management stuff. It takes a very large or very patent-focused company to have a dedicated patent management team.
As you consider the roles at your company, make sure you give some thought to how much time people will be able to dedicate to patent activities. Because their patent role probably won’t be their only role in the business, you should also give some thought to the priority patents should get. I don’t know that I have ever worked with a small company that wasn’t under staffed.
Patents can be very time sensitive. There needs to be adequate coverage even when other critical events like product launches, trade shows, or a major transaction get top priority.
Patents are a process. The initial filing (particularly if it is a provisional filing) is only the beginning. One of the biggest mistakes companies new to patenting make is thinking that patents will manage themselves once you clear the hurdle of initial filing.
In the next post, we will look at the individual patent responsibilities in detail.