In it’s seventh installment on the iEconomy, The New York Times focuses in on the dysfunction in the current patent system. The article uses as a graphic example of the carnage regularly be wrought on certain sectors of the innovation economy the cautionary tale of a small-sh technology company names Vlingo.
Vlingo was a voice-recognition software company which became embroiled in a patent infringement suit with a much larger rival, Nuance. Vlingo ultimately prevailed at trial, but the expenses were such that company was completely drained at the end of the litigation and ended up being acquired by Nuance (the result that Nuance apparently wanted all along).
The NYT article is a good read for a view of just how broken the current system is. The article is by no means perfect. (The Apple enthusiast site imore.com correctly takes the NYT article to task for almost loosing the point of the impact of the patent system on small, outsider innovation company in its examination of Apple’s role in the process.) Nevertheless, the article does get the essential point across: in the process of trying to encourage innovation through the protection of intellectual property, the current system is now subverting its own goals, by creating an environment in which only the massive players at the very top of the market can afford the huge costs of protecting intellectual property (and protecting themselves from attempts to use IP laws to crush competitors).
Although I spend a lot of time attempting to raise awareness of the problems with our current intellectual property laws, much of my writing leave unanswered the question of what, as a company attempting to navigate these complicated and sometimes treacherous waters, should I do. Outside of actively pressing for updates and reforms to our current laws, there are actually quite a number of things that innovation companies can and should be doing.
While these steps will (and need to be, given the complexity and length of the subject matter) discussed in detail in subsequent blog posts, the two most important steps companies can take are: (1) take affirmative steps to protect your intellectual property, (2) ensure that you have processes in place within your company (or through outside resources) to ensure that your products and services are not infringing on the intellectual property of others. Both of these are significant undertakings for an innovation company, particularly ones still in the early-growth phase. These, however, are critical business considerations and failure to incorporate them into a company’s business plan can have dire consequences. As such, planning and budgeting for these as an integral part of a business’ development is a critical risk-management step.