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Is Your IP Foundation on Solid Ground?

I am often asked by company executives who need to protect a new innovation; ‘How do I begin?’

Perhaps they expect to hear a list of tried-and-true steps, but my response is always the same –take a close look at your company’s IP know-how and internal procedures. Your IP foundation.

That may not be the simple answer they are seeking, but the truth is that IP topics are complex and often counterintuitive. Before you create a strategy for innovation protection you must build a practical foundation in basic IP knowledge.

Most importantly, the innovator seeking IP protection, must become aware of the common pitfalls.

Consider the very basic IP concept of “prior art”. Many accomplished executives and engineers do not fully understand that anything written or said in public before a patent’s priority date is considered prior art that can kill your patent, leaving you without protection.

More than that, self-prior art – for example an academic article, a presentation in a professional conference, or a field evaluation of a new product – is most easily found. It can even be used to invalidate your patent after it has been granted.

If your patent becomes valuable, it may also become the target of businesses that search for prior art that can be used to invalidate it.

At the start of our work together, many otherwise well-informed clients don’t know this. Yet, prior art practices are a cornerstone of patent protection, and a key part of what makes a claim valid or invalid.

Building Your IP Foundation

There are countless other patent protection conundrums. So how do you begin protecting your innovation? Your foundation starts with familiarizing yourself and your team with some IP essentials:

  • How to manage trade secrets and defensive publications.

  • What is the difference between patentability and freedom to operate.

  • What are the IP concepts of novelty and obviousness.

  • What is an improvement patent.

  • How to prepare a long-term IP plan and budget.

Naturally, the precise IP knowledge that your staff requires will depend on your business environment, your commercial objectives, the nature of your products, the development stage of your company, and other factors.

A good IP foundation will prevent you from making mistakes that can render your most valuable patents worthless, like so many castles in the air.

Gil Perlberg is an IP development business executive who specializes in the creation of high-value patent portfolios. He can be contacted at

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