The New York Times reports that Plantronics used IP.com to protect an idea it had last year. The idea is to take advantage of what’s known as “prior art” – if prior art exists that adequately describes the subject matter of the patent application, the patent will not be granted. IP.com allows companies to register their prior art so that competitors cannot subsequently patent the same idea.
What’s so provocative about this is that the willing disclosure of new ideas without patent protection (think of it as “defensive” patent protection) is becoming part of a company’s IP strategy. The cost is trivial to use IP. com – $155 vs. an average of $15,000 for domestic patent filings – and it’s effective in preventing others from cornering the idea down the road. The downside? You can’t charge royalties – and there’s no guarantee that your description of the idea will be construed broadly enough to qualify as prior art with subsequent patent filings.
One more note: I’m surprised that The Times didn’t discuss another site that rewards people for finding prior art to challenge current patent applications, and includes strange bedfellows Jeff Bezos (CEO at Amazon.com, owner of the One-Click business method patent noted earlier today) and Tim O’Reilly (CEO of O’Reilly & Associates and major critic of business method patents): BountyQuest. BountyQuest, founded by former Foley Hoag & Eliot attorney Charles Cella, is the site that rewards “bounty hunters” who manage to find prior art for companies seeking to challenge the legitimacy of current patent applications. (Bezos and O’Reilly, though at odds on the current utility of business method patents, both agree on the need for patent reform. Both are investors in BountyQuest.) The rewards run to $10,000 to $15,000 for those that find valid prior art.
One thing is certain: between IP.com and BountyQuest.com, companies now have two non-traditional, powerful ways to turn the staid world of patent protection into a strategic chess match.