Startups shouldn’t pursue patents

Starting up? Forget about patents – at least for a while. While there are definitely exceptions, 99% of startups shouldn’t try to “patent their idea” or even attempt to patent processes or products that will be at best, half-baked.

Twice last week, I was called upon to give advice about patents and intellectual property in general. For the latter see respectip.org – another blog that I just got started on. The first of those opportunities was to a group of about 40 entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs at an accelerator called SparkPluggers. The fact that so many were interested in such a session clearly showed (no offense intended) of their lack of understanding of Intellectual Property. Of course there were knowledgeable people in the audience, but in general, their interest in patenting anything from their “business model” (forget about it) to actual prototypes of medical prostheses demonstrated a range of understanding from naive to sophisticated.

The second time was a one on one session with a very bright entrepreneur who wanted some protection to pursue his business without having to worry about someone copying him and getting ahead of the game because they had more resources. He was interested in attracting investors and wanted them to feel that they were reducing their risk, because the “idea” was protected.

Both of these are valid reasons to look into getting Patents, perhaps into trademarks or copyrights (although the latter two are typically weaker protection for a business). But it is important to be very clear about the costs – both in time and money of pursuing patents, because it simply is not for everybody.

Here are five reasons why a startup shouldn’t worry about patents for a while – at least until they have customers.

  1. Rarely are raw “ideas” good enough to patent. When ideas are actually deployed in practice, you discover flaws in the “implementability” of those ideas – primarily because you simply can’t think of everything, but equally because the customer needs you are trying to serve are not well understood. And nor is the fit between your idea and the customer needs well understood. If they were well understood, someone else would have also understood them and would have been serving those needs. Solving those real problems of market deployment as well as the internal processes that allow you to create a good solution changes your idea so it is actually different from others who have had the same idea (trust me there are many) and you actually derive innovative processes in the implementation phase. And processes are what really makes a patent. Detailed, step-by-step processes are the result of attempting to implement an idea in the real world.
  1. Patents are costly. I have spent over $100,000 to date and we are not all done yet! This is for five US patents and 1 Indian Patent plus four pending applications. Not only are there initial costs, but the examination is a costly process and a surprise to many first-time patent seekers. Every time the examiner raised an object and we had to respond, my attorney’s fees were in the thousands of dollars!
  1. Patents take a lot of your time. I took eight months of doing nothing else. I would have been better off refining my product and then patenting it. And I would have been benefited from pursuing customers at that stage, which would have really helped cash flow.
  1. Solving problems for customers in an innovative way is the way patents are created. No longer in R&D labs, but in the hustle of serving a customer. And customers give a better perspective into the actual usage of the product or process so that it is more “useful”. It is important to recognize patents are utility patents, in other words they must be useful. Plus, the patents, even if granted, are not going to have much value if they don’t address real problems faced by potential users.
  1. Investors are not going to be impressed by patent applications – most applications either don’t result in patents or result in very narrow patents that are not much use at all. So, patent applications don’t really mitigate risk for investors, which is the supposed intent of filing patents.

Overall this also fits into the “Lean Startup” and my own “Very Lean Startup” philosophy, because a startup’s focus should be on recognizing and delivering on customer need – everything else is irrelevant.

It’s Lal Bahadur Shastri’s birthday too!

While I have nothing against celebrating Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday today and celebrating it enthusiastically, let us not forget another great man who was born today. And we must especially remember him now because of our problems with China. They are repeat of what was happening in the early 60s.

I was very, very young, but I remember those days because my father, being in the army, was on the border with China (we called it NEFA then). There was a lot of tension at home, because we didn’t know how he was – all we knew was that he was in the midst of the war. It was 1965 and we didn’t have the kind of communication we have now. Once every two weeks or so, we would get an “inland letter”, and when that blue piece of paper with his neat handwriting arrived, we were happy for a while.

My uncle’s family had a tougher time. Even after the war ended, he was missing for months. We learned later that he and his men had gotten lost and had wandered behind enemy lines. They survived by tossing grenades into frozen ponds and eating the raw fish that floated up to the surface. But I’ll perhaps save that story for another time…

More importantly it was in this mood of tension and waiting that our Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri went to Tashkent (then part of the USSR) to negotiate a peace with Pakistan (and unbeknownst to the world, also the Chinese). It was after the successful conclusion of the negotiations that he suffered a heart attack, and on a cold January morning in what is now the capital of Uzbekistan, surrounded by strangers, he passed on.

Today is the anniversary of his birth too. Let us also pay our respects to him along with Gandhiji.

 
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Deepika Padukone & the Cleavage Row!

OK, Deepika, you rock!  But not in this case…

I am sorry, and I know I am going to get flak for this, but sometimes men have to stand up and be counted. 🙂  Yes, we do rude things sometimes, because we are men.  I do believe in “Different but Equal“. Absolutely, without equivocation.  So…

Remember when Professor Higgins (Pygmalion, or My Fair Lady for the unwashed masses) asked “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?”.  Well, I’d rather not have that, and please women, I hope you can do us men the same courtesy.  And if you think most men are pure at heart, please watch this video where President (and professed man of god) Jimmy Carter famously said “I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times.”

I really like the below video, and it is a great answer to this and all the other such “rows”, but it might offend some prissy people. If you are one of those, please don’t watch!

EverNote vs. OneNote

I recently discovered OneNote and Evernote. I installed Evernote based on a productivity article I read, and while reading a tutorial on effectively using Evernote, I also discovered OneNote.

A friend (thanx Giri!) recommended Google Keep, but I declined to try it. The major issue? You have to keep your information in the Cloud, Google’s Cloud. You don’t have a choice and that makes me a little uncomfortable. Maybe I am old-fashioned (or not old-enough-fashioned), but I never bought into the whole thin-client thing (sorry McNealy). Both OneNote and Evernote give you a choice to save locally or in the Cloud. OneNote on your SkyDrive and Evernote…somewhere out there. This is also partly why I use a local email client (lately Outlook – ugh), not Gmail.

Anyway, more about the Notebook battles. Evernote does not have as many levels. Evernote has Notebooks which can have Notes. That’s it. OneNote on the other hand, has Notebooks, which have Sections and each Section can have Pages. For someone like me who has an information-organization fetish, the ability to divide and subdivide information is too attractive. So, for example a whole book can be organized into a single Notebook – the Sections become ummm, Sections! And of course, the Pages are the Chapters.

Evernote has the Web Clipper, and is integrated into the Browser (at least into Firefox), so clipping URLs, Screenshots etc. is easy. And it is also integrated into Google Search – it searches its own notes in tandem with Google. It is even integrated into Outlook, which I have not yet explored, but that is dangerous, because Microsoft will no doubt defend incursions into its own territory.

In cases like this I usually end up using both tools, until one overwhelmingly takes over. This is better than making a choice at the start, because the utility of any well, utility is only clear after extensive and detailed usage. Once I understand my information gathering and classification style better, I will be able to make a more informed decision. So far, the odds are definitely in favor of OneNote – finally, Microsoft may have done something right!

Proud to be a Rotarian – End of Polio

I believe that Pride is necessarily a bad thing, especially when you take Pride in yourself. Pride, they say, cometh before a fall. Being proud of others, however, is a good feeling and makes you truly happy.

That is why, today, I am proud to be associated with Rotary. It has been a little over three years since I joined Rotary. And this week, India has been polio free for three years – January 13th 2011 was the last reported case of Polio in India. So all of the work had been done before I joined Rotary. And some of the women and men who made it possible are those I meet every week. Let’s be honest, I can’t say I like all of them. Nor are they all perfect – far from it. But most are wonderful people, and it has been an honor and a privilege to know them. And, they are all responsible for this stupendous effort that has rid India of a dreaded disease. Yes, plenty of other organizations including the Indian Government, the WHO and the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation have played major roles. But Rotary has been one of the most active and most committed. See the graphics below, they show contributions in Millions of dollars. Rotary is second, after only the Gates foundation!

PolioDonorprofile

RotaryPolioContribution
Full PDF here

So thank you Rotarians, for what you have done and for what you continue doing.  And thank you for letting me in on this reflected glory.

But our work is not done yet…

When I was a child – from the age of about 2 to 6, a little girl by the name of Renu Grewal lived next to me. She and I played and hung out together. We would crawl through a hole in the hedge to meet each other. She was full of energy and passion like Punjabi girls are wont to be! But she had polio. It never mattered to me then, but looking back I feel a small sadness. But not pity.  I remember learning too that her father was an Air Force Pilot and was shot down in the 1965 war. Even then I felt no pity for her, because I knew she was stronger than all the other kids – perhaps because of herI wonder what happened to her… Why does Renu matter? Because the victims of this dreaded disease are still around us and perhaps need our help and support. Let us not forget them. I don’t think Renu needed anyone’s support – she was much too feisty for that, but other little children do. They need corrective surgery, prostheses, and assimilation into our society – assimilation without pity.

See also http://world.time.com/2013/01/13/how-india-fought-polio-and-won/

Hello World!

Hmmm…. What should my first post on this blog be about?  Myself? No, that’s already in the About Me section.

My interests?  Which one?

Food?  Drink? Ooh, Yeah!

Life? Love? Um… Not publicly, can’t do that last one, 🙂 hey? Films? Books? Uh-huh… Entrepreneurship? SocioBiology? Technology? Philosophy?  The Green Bay Packers? The things I like make a long list…

OK, so my first post will be about why I blog.  I am not new to blogging, but this is the first time I have a Personal Blog, on which I feel like I have the freedom to write just about anything.  So those (above) are some of the topics I am going to write about. Notice how I cleverly said “some”, so I can expand that list?  Smart, hey?

Anyway, enough frivolity.  I have previously blogged about my technology L3, moving back to India and a few other topics.  The first was for business reasons and the second was an emotional reaction to my return to my birthplace that had become a frustrating enigma to me.

As I mature and grow older, I feel that I do have valuable thoughts to share.  These aren’t just opinions unsupported by facts (usually) or emotional rantings.  I pride myself on thoughtful, reasoned dialog.  I research, discuss, and then write.

Another reason to blog is simply to refine my thinking about the various things that I need to or want to think about.  And what better way to organize your thoughts and hone them, than to write?

Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man.
Sir Francis Bacon
English author, courtier, & philosopher (1561 – 1626)  

Finally, I want to write a book, and what better practice than to write often?  I used to write well, but like every other skill, it atrophies if unused.

So here’s wishing me luck and to you dear reader, luck as well, in that you may find in my blog, ideas of value or just entertainment.

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