An entrepreneur recently told me she had discovered a new use for an old molecule. She was not sure about moving ahead with it because patent protection was not solid. I said “so what”, just to be provocative. Then I told her that having patent protection was not the only option.

Patent protection is often considered the Holy Grail of innovation. If you have a shiny new invention, it will benefit from long-term protection. A patent can allow you to build your business and hopefully sell it and make you very rich. But like most things, there are shades of grey.

Say you are able to get a patent. How strong is it? Can a smart person work around it? And even if your patent is rock solid, that does not stop copycats. A patent only allows you to sue them for infringement. That’s a huge misunderstanding for many new innovators. What if you launch and five copycats appear on the market? You need deep pockets and a talented legal team to deal with this. I have seen innovators abandon their patents because they didn’t have the funds or stamina for the litigation.

Going back to the entrepreneur with an old molecule. Many of the regulatory hurdles had been overcome by previous innovators. The few remaining ones seemed surmountable. I have seen projects like this become hugely successful with rapid scale up and sales execution. If copycats arrive, the entrepreneurs continued to innovate with product improvements, line extensions, and new sales and distribution channels.

Sure, a rock-solid patent is great to have but it’s not the only option to make you a successful innovator.

Our YouTube Channel showcases our Lectures on Innovation Series featuring our “Patents” video, which continues this article in more depth. Watch it here.

For more information, please contact Focal Point Research Inc. We are leading North American Regulatory and New Product Consultants for Medical DevicesNatural Health ProductsOTC DrugsCosmetics, and other consumer products regulated by Health Canada and the U.S. FDA .

Rob Fichtner, October, 2019