Who is your competition?  Has anyone done something like this before?

These questions come up with some frequency. And I have noticed that the desired response from a set of entrepreneurs is “no one.”  But really?  Most inventions are built on a synthesis of existing ideas with a new twist or addition.

It reminds me of little kids, who run through the living room naked and cover their eyes, figuring if they can’t see, none of mom and dad’s guests will notice they are running through the room without any clothes.  It doesn’t really work there, and it doesn’t work with your start-up.  Saying there is no competition, or covering your eyes to it, doesn’t make it go away.

Being informed about the competition has a host of advantages.  On the IP side, it gives you a good foothold in how to clearly distinguish what you have.  Instead of ignoring what is out there, find out what’s out there.

Why, you ask?

  • Patentability – Yes, you can file a patent application on anything. But if it’s already been described in another patent application, in the research literature or the like, you could end up spending beaucoup bucks for much of nothing.

Contrast this with any understanding of what is out there already (the prior art) and why your innovation is different or an improvement.  Knowing the key differences can guide a strategy of how you can establish and protect a valuable niche.

  • Freedom to operate – Running down a path that is going to slam you in the wall of some 3rd party’s IP can be painful and unnecessary.

Understanding what is out there can guide you to solutions.  Perhaps you will go for a design-around that won’t fall under the existing patent claims.  You can also assess the strength of existing patents and applications that may mature into patents and realistically decide the risk of treading on that territory.

  • Savvy – Knowing what makes your company special helps you stand out. Acknowledge what exists, highlight its short comings and show how your product addresses these weaknesses.

Be prepared – and articulate why you will win!