Patents and NDAs oh my!
Entrepreneurs should consider a few things before entering into Patents and NDAs.
A few considerations regarding Patents and NDAs
I was recently talking with an entrepreneur about how much time they should spend with patents and having potential partners/investors sign NDAs. All good questions and people have strong views on both sides of the argument. While I am not a legal expert, here are a few thoughts.
Obviously the nature of your product does have a big impact here. A medical device or new technology may have one path, or simple software may have another. Understanding that, I do meet with many entrepreneurs who probably spend too much time and money on the patent process. They start a pitch with “I have 3 patents and several more pending.” Instead, many investors get more excited talking about the big problem you are solving and how customers are paying, using, and loving the product. Proving authentic demand is far more valuable than patents.
I run across a fair amount of entrepreneurs who will not disclose any information on their business without signing a NDA. I completely understand sensitivity to what they feel is a special idea. However, be aware that requiring people to sign NDAs creates friction, in most cases are irrelevant or unenforceable, and doesn’t set the tone of trust in a partner relationship. Yes, someone could steal your idea or copy something you have. But does the risk of that outweigh the ability to quickly find the right partner? If you are concerned, at least have some basic information you can share and hold back anything you feel is sensitive until later in the process. If the idea never leaves your head, it can never find its way into customers and team members that can help you grow.
No matter how secretive you want to be, I can almost guarantee someone, somewhere in the world has your same idea. What’s most important is how you quickly execute and iterate to solve must-have customer problems. Be careful getting bogged down in things that distract you from being in front of customers and growing your business.
While patents have a time and place, I think in most cases they can be a crutch and distraction. NDAs usually are not worth the effort. More importantly, time is often your most valuable resource and spending that time with customers and solving their problems is usually far more productive.