But it’s “ridiculous” that software patents also last 20 years. “It allows the trolls to accumulate these software patents that are frankly worthless in many ways as far as innovation is concerned,” says Watkins. “However, it gives them the opportunity to look at newer patents and try to argue that the older patent was the genesis of the new patent.” That’s what happened to Bannert.
Many people have ideas for how to fix the patent system, but the problem is that each constituency, whether large or small companies, trial lawyers, research universities or venture capitalists, has conflicting interests. No sweeping reform is likely. Which means CEOs of small and medium-sized companies are truly on their own.
The bottom line? Take your patent strategy very seriously because it can make or break your company.
Advice for CEOs in the Patent Trenches
>>Develop a technology roadmap so you know which patents are critical to your company’s long-term strategy. Seek patents for only the most important ones.
>>Whether your patents are written in-house or by outside patent attorneys, verify that they also are reviewed by litigators to make sure they are defensible in court.
>>Pick your fights carefully. Not all patent battles make economic sense.
>>If you get involved in litigation, look for ways to license your technology to the counterparty or, vice versa, buy a license to use theirs. Don’t insist on pushing the case all the way to completion. That consumes too much time and money.
Be proactive. Look for other companies’ patents you might license if that makes more business sense than developing a technology internally. Why invent it if someone else already has?