Stealing another company’s ideas is nothing new in the cut-throat corporate world.
Steve Jobs, the late CEO of Apple, once said: “We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.” Facebook helped build out its global empire with a copycat strategy when it lacked its own imagination and invention, prompting The Wall Street Journal to write: Facebook employees’ new motto? “Don’t be too proud to copy.”
But innovative companies must stand up to this longstanding practice of “borrowing” their ideas; this should not be dismissed as simply the cost of doing business in the fast-paced world of technology. It may not be easy, but coming to the rescue to protect ideas is technology itself.
Companies need to understand the options available to protect them.
Copyright is certainly used but has a very narrow scope. Trademarks are valuable but also limited because they only protect the likes of a business name and logo. People often hope the concept of “trade secrets” will protect their ideas but in fact, these are not actually registered and so they are hard to enforce.
Faced with these limitations, there is a consensus that patents generally do work in protecting your ideas. But for the longest time, the process to file a patent application has been cumbersome and expensive, meaning the deep-pocketed tech giants have an advantage over the lean startups (where most of the best ideas often come from).
AI aids inventors
Still, nowadays, technology is increasingly leveling the playing field.
Businesses produce large amounts of data every day. It never stops. We’re always generating it. This is both good and bad news. It’s good because we have lots of information that can support our business efforts and decisions. With large amounts of data, businesses can make educated decisions and take calculated risks.
The bad news is that there’s just so much! Where do you start? What information do you need for your business? How do you make sense of it? We’ve all been there at some point or another — wanting to take the next steps in our businesses but not knowing how to do it. The answer lies in Artificial Intelligence.
AI can be used to compare your idea against competitors’ products; it can automate the patent process by decreasing cost and increasing access; and finally, any patent litigation can be cheaper and faster when it is powered by AI.
Additionally, another exponential technology, blockchain, also lowers the cost of monetizing patents through micropayments. People generally want to do the right thing and follow licensing rules but the system is often prohibitively expensive. Blockchain allows companies to fulfill licensing obligations at fractions of a penny using automation.
Armed with these technologies, companies can also go a step further and cooperate to pool their patents. In this way, they can support each other in alliances to play defense should any of the big corporations look to their age-old habit of stealing ideas.
Start-up innovators, especially in technology, too often eschew the idea of battling it out for patents because it runs counter to their philosophy of open-source collaboration.
But if founders and entrepreneurs remain on the patent sidelines, they will forfeit the benefits of their innovations and inventions to the tech giants who will have no remorse in squeezing them out and gobbling up even more markets. Take the area of blockchain, as an example. In our study, earlier this year, Alibaba is shown to be well on its way with its mission to overtake IBM in the patent wars to be the leader in blockchain technology. There’s a serious struggle going on in the patent space – and smaller players need to be ready to take up the fight.
Thankfully, they can look to their successful predecessors who have blazed a patent path by devising how to play defense and thwart the big corporations.
Twitter vows only to play defense with its patents while Square has launched a consortium to pool patents. The model here has been exemplified by Red Hat, which is admired by open-source source proponents. Red Hat has for years set out its position at the center of invention by safeguarding Linux innovations against patent attacks. Companies can obtain patents and then pool them, providing strength in numbers to fend off larger corporations while retaining flexibility in how to use their patents.
Increased idea rights registration and better cooperation, new business models for cooperation and control, alliances for better idea defense, and fair compensation with AI/blockchain-powered micropayments all add up to making an innovators’ patent toolbox far more effective and versatile.
Thanks to new strategies and cutting-edge technology, the future for inventors is bright. With idea theft far less likely to prosper, innovators across the globe are free to do what they do best. They can bring their ideas from inception to reality, and, along the way, make the world a better place.
(D’vorah Graeser is a U.S. patent agent and CEO of KISSPatent, which uses artificial intelligence to modernize patent application process.)