In the film “Joy,” the title character experienced patent troll torture. Joy Mangano marketed an idea. A mop that required no hands to wring out. After building a business and almost bringing her invention to full success, someone made a claim on her patent.
The end of the story is a good one, but Magano went through hell proving the claim false. She now has more than 100 patents and she’s worth around $50 million dollars.
Not everyone can be so lucky.
1. What is a Patent Troll?
First, let’s talk about the difference between a patent and a copyright or trademark. A copyright or trademark often refer to artistic works like books, paintings, and architectural blueprints. A patent is specifically for inventions and processes.
A patent troll is usually a shell company that doesn’t actually do business. They take out patents and then sue businesses over those patents.
It’s a nasty way of operating. They often settle for less than a courtroom fight and people give in.
2. It’s Up to You to Know
Launching a startup is an insane process. Your plate is stacked so high you feel you’re going to drown in paperwork and people. This is why most patent trolls target startups. Startups are too busy to properly research their patents.
And really, if you didn’t know it, you might assume the patent office is an efficient machine that knows all patents registered. They wouldn’t ever double patent, right? Wrong.
The patent office is an old bureaucracy. Some interest groups are battling in Washington to pass laws that would shore up some inefficiency. But until then, it’s up to you to research your own patents and be sure nobody else took out a similar patent.
Document every step you take with your patent and all the research you do both directly related to your invention and to the vetting process.
If you can ensure there was no patent taken out before yours, you are protected in part. It won’t stop someone from trying, but at least you have a full defense.
2. Get a Lawyer
Most lawyers will give you a free consultation if you receive a demand letter. They won’t charge you unless they can take you to court and fight back.
Receiving a demand letter is not the end of the line. It’s not like receiving a restraining order. The burden of proof is on the demander.
Sometimes all it takes is a letter from an attorney to scare off the trolls. It’s like sunshine to them.
3. Get Insurance
Intellectual property insurance is a real thing. It’s a new product insurance companies have created in response to the large number of patent infringement lawsuits in recent years.
If you’re going to bet on an invention or process, and you’re going to take out a patent, then you should definitely get insurance.
It’s just as wise as getting health or car insurance. If your patent is worth something, chances are someone out there is going to want a piece of the pie.