While there’s innovative product like iPhone, most new products are improved versions of old products.
Patent protects both.
It really doesn’t matter whether your invention makes people’s lives better or not.
For example, there is a famous case of a “fake juice dispenser”. The dispenser by its appearance has a tank that contains liquid juice. But inside, the dispenser has a water tank and a juice powder container as well as a mixing mechanism, all hidden from the plain view. The design enables the juice seller to use powdered juice concentrate that has a longer shelf life while appealing to customers who like the freshness of liquid juice.
Long story short, the dispenser got patent protection.
Patent is often the only way to curb competition.
Patent is a strong legal right. It grants you government-sanctioned monopoly, though for a limited time, over a thing or a way to do something. And moreover it can raise a high bar blocking others from encroaching on your market.
Let’s say you invented a method in which you make a sandwich while wearing a thimble, and this way, you can make your sandwich miraculously delicious.
Now, if there is no known method or record in which you make a sandwich using a thimble, you can probably get that method patented. I know it’s far-fetched; someone probably made a sandwich or two while wearing a thimble in the past. Nonetheless, if nobody did, this invention is quite innovative, right? It’s certainly not an improvement of traditional sandwich recipes.
Now, for 20 years, nobody can make sandwich with a thimble without your permission. How does this work in a real life? Well, as soon as people learn about this (getting a patent means your method is no longer a secret), they will start making sandwiches with a thimble at home, and there is no way you can monitor everyone’s kitchen to enforce your right. Nonetheless, if it’s a sandwich shop, you can probably do something about it. And more importantly, you will have monopoly on thimbles for sandwich-making because anyone who markets a thimble for sandwich-making will indirectly infringe your patent.
Then, competitors will try to design around your method. If the thimbles work because of certain physical attributes, there could be other ways to achieve similar effect. That involves reverse-engineering and some research effort. After all, they might come up with a better way.
To prevent this, you want to keep inventing or improving your method. By keep inventing, I mean you should try to patent new ways to make sandwiches. On the other hand, if there is improvement, you should consider patenting the improvement as well. When you have so many ways to make sandwiches patented, then your competitors will feel like it’s easier to just pay you licensing fees or just leave the market. Improvement on your old invention makes other alternatives less efficient and thus less appealing.
Two lessons from the above hypothetical.
- Your invention needs not be new. A thimble? I definitely remember seeing my grandma using it. There’s always a way to patent (and thus protect) your thing.
- You need to keep inventing or improving. Stay forward-looking. Unless you keep working on it, others will find a way to circumvent it.