The Chicken or the Egg Debate: Innovation vs. Patents

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

In the oft cited paradox, we’re asked which came first: the chicken or the egg? The same question is asked by the startup community: which came first — the innovation or the patent? Can you have a patent without innovation (and vice versa)?

I personally am a fan of an insight by a Quora contributor, who wisely notes:

“Chickens aren’t a static thing. They evolve over time. They are constantly changing. So are their eggs and the contents of those eggs, too.”

The same theory applies to innovation vs. patent debate as well. As you can imagine, innovation is never static — in fact, the very definition of innovation denotes an evolution of an idea, using words such as “revolution” and “breakthrough” to describe it.

The definition of innovation also depends on how you view innovation — was the first computer an innovation? Most would easily agree. But, what about the next iteration of that computer, which made it faster and smarter? And the next evolution? Where does innovation end?

Startups and individual innovators also have varying definitions of innovation versus a large company. For startup founders, innovation is the very idea, unique product, or service that creates a solution to a problem or allows us to think of an issue from a different perspective. However, for a large company, innovation may not have the same societal benefits in mind as above. Take a look at any large company’s P&L, and you’ll probably find a section dedicated to research and development. For a large company, R&D is the innovation process by which a final end product can be created, and then sold to customers.

There is one definition we can all agree on: when there is a unique and innovative idea, it can be protected with a patent. When you’ve obtained a patent, your baseline idea (i.e your innovation) is completely secure. Your idea is protected from thieves and copycats, which gives you free reign to continue to innovate and develop your idea, place a product/service behind your idea to deliver value to customers, file for new patents based on your original patent, or even sell your patent to make it profitable. A patent makes your idea your property.

Now, put yourself in the shoes of a large company with a massive R&D budget. Do you realistically expect that a company that is conducting research on such a massive scale would continue to develop their ideas without protection? The answer is likely not. When the company continues to develop their research further, they will continue to patent ideas that come up throughout the process — even if those ideas lead to dead-ends. Why? Because patents can be sold regardless.

For small businesses such as startups, innovation can be equated with risk. Once you begin to innovate, there are ample opportunities for others to steal your ideas. However, should you embark on the patent process, you will also gain insightful knowledge about your own business, as you’ll be evaluated on whether or not your idea is truly unique and novel. A patent can lower your risk, and open up funding opportunities from others. Although you won’t be attached to a large company’s R&D department, your patent will make your company an innovation hub — and your budget will come from funders who will flock to you once they see intellectual property protection.

Just like the chicken or egg debate, it’s hard to say which comes first: innovation or patents. We strongly believe that they are co-dependent, and ever-evolving. A patent can put you on the path to begin or further develop your startup’s innovation process.

At KISSPatent, we help entrepreneurs and innovators to monetize their ideas. We put the power of patent protection for your unique idea in your hands. We help startups increase their valuation, keep from getting blocked, and protect their ideas and their communities. Contact us to get started here.

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CEO of KISSPatent, providing strategic patent protection for tech startups