It’s not that patents are bad. It’s just that you can’t trust them to protect your business from competition. In Should I Start This Business on the Bplans Blog, Sabrina Parsons reflects on a recommendation to explore patents in a startup:

This is solid advice. I just want to add a caveat. Patents will not protect you. They are good to have, investors like them, but your competitors will find ways around them (if the solution is that good, believe me they will). Proving patent infringement is also a long and costly process that would most likely kill your business. So please, go ahead and get a patent, but then put a strategy in place to market the heck out of your solution — so that when someone copies it you are the true front runner with the best quality solution.

The kill your business phrase might be a bit strong, but cost a lot of money, yes. So you might also budget some money for legal fees, because having a patent implies having the money to monitor infringement and take action to prevent it.

You might also have some money ready for legal evaluation of the defensibility of a patent. Some are much less defensible than others. Sometimes an expert in the technology area can give you a reading on how strong your patent is and how competitors might work around it.

Tim BerryTim Berry

Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Follow him on Twitter @Timberry.