One of a start-up’s most valuable assets is intellectual property. Whether you are trademarking your name, securing a patent or acquiring licensing rights, it can help a start-up accelerate sales, stakeholder trust and overall company value.
But while developing and protecting an IP asset can add tremendous value, there’s much more juice to be squeezed out of your asset. For example, quickly spreading the word about a new patent can improve your brand position, increase sales and put competitors on the defense. And when the competition infringes upon your IP, the threat of legal action combined with public pressure can put your company in a position of strength, which can often cause them to reverse course.
Lee Rashkin ran a product manufacturing company with dozens of patents which he and his team leveraged to improve revenue and market position. Spreading the word about the firm’s IP assets generated trust with regulators, potential licensing partners and other stakeholders, and helped set the stage for tremendous revenue through granting licensees access to the firm’s technology.
Here’s how your marketing and branding strategy can use common steps of the IP protection process to generate new eyeballs on your company and increase trust with existing audiences.
One of the biggest mistakes companies make is not aligning their promotion plan to the patent process. If you generate interest too early, the competition can blunt your message and distract stakeholders from your big news. On the other hand, you don’t want your IP to be in place for months without people knowing about it.
These inherent business challenges are made more difficult by the patent office’s unpredictability throughout the IP application, processing and approval process.
The right strategy depends upon your exact needs, but here are a few consistent principles to keep in mind:
Have all of your relevant resources working together. Your patent attorney and communications team lead should be in communication early in the process so that your media content has the right technical language and is properly timed.
Start building brand awareness so that relevant stakeholders know your narrative and what you bring to the marketplace. You want to prime the pump for your IP news.
Bring the right partners into the patent promotion plan. These can include licensing partners, investors, regulators and service providers.
Let everyone know that you’ve created something new. If a tree falls in the woods and nobody heard it, it doesn’t make a sound — and the patent office issuing your patent can’t generate improved revenue and market position if nobody knows it exists.
For example, you should seek maximum exposure through trade outlets, local and regional press, social media and email marketing so that consumers know that your company is innovating and how that innovation is different from everything else in the market. These tactics also let the competition know that you’ve staked out a valuable piece of IP territory.
Getting the word out builds revenue — and the reverse is also true. Nothing generates credibility like third-party users actually buying, using and approving of your product. Each successful agreement is an opportunity for photos and videos for your and their websites and social media, as well as media coverage in local, regional and business trade press.
The same is true for each successful regulatory approval in new jurisdictions. Regulatory approvals reinforce the legitimacy of your IP to existing and new consumers; maximizing that legitimacy comes through using all channels to inform stakeholders.
IP infringement by large, well-funded competitors is every small business owner’s nightmare, which Lee learned firsthand as his industry’s biggest player consistently fought tooth-and-nail against patented inventions being approved in important U.S. states.
There are many ways to respond to infringement, and they all start with being ready ahead of time:
Have legal plans in place.
Know your patent’s strong and weak spots.
Get an infringement opinion from your patent office to protect from counter-suits.
Be patient — infringement suits are a marathon, not a sprint.
Only defend strong patents. Losing in court is the worst of all options.
If you lay the correct groundwork, you can keep the infringement in limbo while you continue generating revenue and building brand recognition with your IP assets. Nothing excites the press, social media and influencers like David fighting Goliath!
Being ready ahead of time also means that when the bigger competitor with more money tries to stomp on your IP, stakeholders are already on your side. The competition may have the megaphone to claim that your patent is invalid or that your product doesn’t work, but you have the stakeholder trust that none of that is true.
Turning IP into market dominance and scalable sales
As companies like Vibram, Gore-Tex and Spanx have brilliantly demonstrated, an integrated approach to IP keeps the big guys off your back, customers ready to buy, and stakeholders on your side as you turn idea protection into a revenue-generating, brand-positioning asset for growth and success.
Lee Rashkin is a serial entrepreneur in the food, beverage, and product manufacturing verticals. Dustin Siggins is a nationally published business writer and founder of the publicity firm Proven Media Solutions.