Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Business Method Patents: Is Your Company (Or Nation) Missing an Opportunity?

While some have feared that business method patents have become dead in the US after In Re Bilski and other challenges, these appear to be either minor irritants or even wholesome corrections, leaving very real opportunities for those who innovate in business methods. Are you missing out? Is your field of business, or even nation?

IPFrontline has an excellent article from May 22 on business method patents. Patent Protection and Financial Institutions by Alexandra Daoud, Malcolm McLeod, and Mitchell Wolfe shows that US financial institutions have been aggressive in pursuing patents in the United States as well as in Canada, where many of our institutions also have operations. On the other hand, Canadian financial institutions, many with operations on both sides of the border, have filed far less. Many significant Canadian institutions have filed nothing in the US or Canada, and even the leaders have only filed a tiny handful. Clearly, Canadian businessmen in that sector don't see the same opportunities that their US counterparts do. Could it be that a lack of awareness is costing them an important opportunity to protect their intellectual assets?

How is your business or sector of the economy doing in its IP strategy? Are you focused on traditional patents for gadgets and the methods of making them? Do you recognize that much of the innovation that drives the economy involves how we do business, what we do with data, how we manage relationships, and how we interact with partners and customers? If that is where much of the most valuable innovation is found in your area, what are you doing to protect it? Isn't it time to get more aggressive about non-traditional patents, including business method patents?

When I was Corporate Patent Strategist at Kimberly-Clark Corporation, one of my most exciting initiatives was introducing a formal effort to pursue business method patents. K-C was a world leader in some of its methods. By creating a Cross-Sector Business Method Group, we were able to educate teams across the Corporation about the opportunities and help many previously unheralded inventors recognize that they were in fact creating patentable material. We helped many of them gain recognition and file valuable patent application, including applications in RFID, marketing, inventory management, spare parts, logistics, relationship management, etc. It was one of the most exciting aspects of my work there. Pursuing opportunities of this nature requires a lot of evangelism and education. It also requires some serious grunt work as you help teams scour their work and figure out where inventions can be found and protected. But these efforts can do a lot of good, if you have the right support from management and Legal.

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