Some believe patents protect functionality. Others believe that they stifle innovation. Any time a patent is enforced, there are winners and losers, whether it's the emerging start-up competing against industry giants for a foothold of the market, or established companies attempting to machete through the patent thicket.
That's why, in 2015, a little over a year after I left Tesla, when Elon Musk proclaimed "Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology", it got everyone's attention. He later doubled down on the statement that anyone can "just go ahead and use them", which seemed to fly in the face of the legal clause "in good faith". But even Elon understands that one size does not fit all. Solar City files patents, but they are not open. SpaceX has very few patents in an effort to protect the technology from getting into the hands of it's biggest competitor, China.
The past few weeks, I have thought a lot about the place Enemy Tree, LLC sits. We aren't Tesla trying to encourage the largest car companies in the world to get onboard with the electric car movement. We also aren't SpaceX trying to stop any threats of competition in their tracks. While I hope someday to be in a position to make such choices, these are still a ways off.
Instead, Enemy Tree, LLC is closer to Solar City. We have a great idea, but there are some other products that are similar. The market is large enough that we believe our product can compete, but in the meantime, there is no harm taking the extra step to file a patent or two. Which is why, a few weeks ago, I went to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in Denver to file a provisional patent on one of our unique pieces of technology, in preparation for our latest development project.
Believe the hype; patents are everything the kids are talking about. They are a lot of paperwork. They are many hours of thinking through every application of your product, and then, painstakingly committing that those descriptions to paper with diagrams. And once every "t" has been crossed and every "i" has been dotted, they are full of an immeasurable feeling of satisfaction at having completed the process and knowing, at least, for now that what has been created remains yours.
And yet, outside of what I need to do to protect the interests of my fledging start-up, and our yet to be announced new product, I remain conflicted about the value of patents. How do you feel about patents? What is the tipping point that allows a start-up to open patents or stop patenting all together?