Sunday, May 08, 2011

Patents and business models

Steve Blank, a successful Silicon Valley entrepreneur, offers an interesting definition of a startup business: a startup is an organization formed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model. He further explains:

Think of a business model as a drawing that shows all the flows between the different parts of your company. A business model diagram also shows how the product gets distributed to your customers and how money flows back into your company. And it shows your company’s cost structures, how each department interacts with the others and where your company fits with other companies or partners to implement your business.

I find business model-based approach highly useful in developing invention and patent strategies, especially, for startups. The purpose of an IP portfolio is not to protect your technology, but create prohibitive risks for competition attempting to enter your newly discovered business space. Technology is just one element of the model. Protecting technology with patents will only create a false sense of security, because at the time of patent writing (remember, you are still in search mode), you don't know which patent claims are going to be allowed by the Patent Office.

Patenting, in contrast with invention, is about business risk creation. Therefore, it should be guided by the business model search, e.g. with conscious efforts to discover business model weak spots and directing inventions and claims to attack the vulnerabilities.

P.S. The 9-screen view and 5-element analysis provide much better tools for business model analysis than the standard Osterwalder drawing. The tools have multilayer flow-based concepts built-in, which allows for easy identification of control points.

tags: patent, strategy, business, model, system, 3x3, five element analysis, startup, scalability

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