After going through the process of getting a software patent with a well-known California law firm for my initial startup — and finally choosing to drop it after spending a ton of money but going nowhere — here is my take on the question of whether a software patent is worth it.
Although patents for things other than software are legitimate and have a clear purpose, software patents feel like a joke.
The Process Can be Tedious
Below is what I now understand about the process of obtaining a software patent:
-Think of an idea.
-Do not write any code, test any model or do anything else with that idea.
-Spend $5,000-to-$10,000 to have a patent attorney write about your idea in a patent format.
-Wait 1-to-2 years.
-Continue to pay your attorney while they “update” you on the progress and do little things like keeping the paperwork filed.
-Have your patent denied.
-Spend another $5,000-to-$20,000 to have the patent attorney re-word your patent and go back to Step 4; repeat.
People Will Tell You That Any Software Can be Easily Copied
These are people who have most likely never written or produced software, especially a web or mobile app. Yes, anyone can look at an idea and say, “I want to build that.” It is never as easy as it seems. The team that executes and the leaders who direct make software successful. Anyone can have an idea, but it is how you execute that idea that makes the difference. You will need to decide where you personally stand on this. If you think that anyone will be able to copy your idea and put you out of business, then either call a patent attorney or think of ways to make your own knowledge more critical.
You Will Hear Talk of Patent Portfolios
Ignore it. At this point, until you have in-house lawyers who can spend all day creating a slew of software patents for ideas that you may or may not have thought of yet, there is no point in trying to build one. Instead, invest your time and money on building a business that works.
Technology Moves Too Fast for Software Patents to Keep Up
By the time you get your software patented, your business could have already pivoted. You could have already exited, gone out of business or worse yet, your entire patent could be outdated.
Your Experience is What is Valuable, Not Your Software
Our GoFanbase app could be copied, yes. But it is our 8 years of knowledge in our specific industry and domain that they cannot copy or get access to. If someone were to look at our app and just make a copy, they might get some things right. However, they would not know why we did what we did. They might think they have a better way to do things, but they would be wrong. In addition, by the time they have finished copying what we have already done, we are going to be 5 steps ahead. Our knowledge and the fact that we are creating the solution to a problem we know backward and forward is better protection than any patent out there. Plus, consumers can tell when something is a knock-off. Thrown-together software that does not solve a problem is a sure sign.
Speed is Your Best Protection
Solve a problem correctly, and build a fast team that can produce continual solutions as the problem advances with technology. The US Patent Office will not be able to keep up and neither will your competitors. Keep that edge, and know you are spending money in the right places.
In the end, your business’s individual expertise and knowledge of your industry are what makes your product valuable — and that cannot be copied.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.
Image credit: CC by opensource.com