hark Tank has profiled some clever IT entrepreneurs like Tracey Beikoff from first aid invention Rescue Swag, Kim Huynh from We Teach Me and last night we met Robbie Adams from Mobilyser. Protecting your IP in the tech space can be challenging and there are a wide variety of opinions about how best to approach it.
Speed-to-market is crucial, because it’s only a matter of time before someone else identifies the same unmet need. Is it worth pursing IP protection? Many feel patents can be a costly and time consuming distraction when more important tasks deserve their attention.
Canberra based app developers, Andrew Clapham and Zakaria Bougetaya faced the same problem. The ingenious duo developed a mobile app to avoid those awkward moments of asking friends to repay money. QPay makes splitting a restaurant bill or utilities in a shared house a whole lot easier.
Andrew and Zakaria made a conscious decision not to protect their original IP. In principle, they are not opposed to IP protection. However, developing a minimum viable product into a successful one means they have to abandon many good ideas before they find something great. They believe protecting your original idea can handcuff start-ups to a bad idea. This spells disaster through the fallacy of sunk costs. For example, imagine you’re half way through a movie you totally hate. Just because you’ve paid for it doesn’t mean you have to watch the second half of the movie. There’s no correlation between your sunk cost and the movie improving. It’s OK to walk away.
There are three issues to consider when making an informed decision about patents.
- Freedom to operate. Just because you don’t want to patent doesn’t mean someone else hasn’t patented the technology you’re about to launch. Best to find out first before you get a nasty letter from their attorney.
- Patentability. Once you have freedom to operate, you should know if your technology is patentable. For simple apps, it’s possible nothing you’ve developed is patentable. Your technology may be obvious to peers in your industry, even if you’ve found a great problem to solve!
- Cost benefit. Do the costs of patenting (which include time, money and risk) outweigh the benefits of patenting? Sometime they do. Sometimes they don’t. It depends a lot on your competitive environment and priorities. If you are unsure, see a patent attorney. Many offer free initial consultations.
As you can see, there is a decision to make our IP in the tech space that can affect both your timing in getting your product to market and also your bottom line. Robbie made use of the R&D Tax Incentive offered by the Australian Government when he was researching and building his app. Don’t forget to visit business.gov.au to find out if you’re eligible for this or other incentives.