Earlier this year, Apple sued Qualcomm for $1 billion alleging that Qualcomm has "been charging royalties for technologies they have nothing to do with." Qualcomm was firm in dismissing this action as "baseless" and fired back saying "Apple has intentionally mischaracterized our agreements and negotiations, as well as the enormity and value of the technology we have invented, contributed and shared with all mobile device makers through our licensing program,"
The quarrel between the two manufacturing giants took a nasty turn this week when Qualcomm petitioned the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) to ban all iPhone sales in the United States, saying the phones "infringe one or more claims of six Qualcomm patents covering key technologies that enable important features and functions," and constitute what was essentially an "unlawful and unfair use of Qualcomm's technology."
While this very public rivalry will certainly take awhile to settle, it can serve as a lesson -- or simply a reminder -- for entrepreneurs.
Patents and proprietary protection are important.
Obtaining a patent for your product is important, especially if it is truly meaningful and unique. More important, we want a way to protect work that we have poured hours and countless resources into developing. The U.S. has wonderful intellectual property protections -- especially compared to some parts of the world -- and these protections do a great job encouraging innovation, creativity and risk-taking in general.
The process of effectively obtaining a patent can be expensive. You can go about it yourself, but unless you are experienced in the process and the requirements, there is a good chance you won't achieve the proper protection. For this reason, it is a good idea to use legal advice.
More important, defending your patent is also a very expensive and time-consuming process. Companies like Qualcomm and Apple clearly have the resources for this, but most entrepreneurs do not.
Do not be intimidated.
Watching Apple and Qualcomm spend an enormous amount of resources on this could give pause to some entrepreneurs who see the entire process as too resource-intensive to even endeavor. Because of this process, entrepreneurs too often end up sitting on an idea until it becomes obsolete, introduced by someone else, or simply forgotten.
Consider your two options.
In the end, entrepreneurs have two options: 1) do nothing or 2) do something. If you fall into the camp for the latter, then there are many ways to further your idea while working around the patenting process.
For starters, you need to understand that patenting should not be your first action. Ask any experienced entrepreneur about product development and most will agree that your first iteration of any new idea rarely is the version introduced to the market.
Inevitably -- and properly -- entrepreneurs use continuous improvement through rapid testing to get feedback to refine and adjust an idea. In some cases, it results in a complete pivot altogether.
Also, while it may seem counterintuitive to share your idea before it is protected, with the incredibly rapid pace of business these days, collaborating with others can provide valuable and timely feedback and access to a network of individuals who can help.
Of course, if you feel confident that your idea is patent-worth and patent-ready, then you should consult a professional. In my experience, however, the best way to protect your idea is to get it to market as quickly as possible.