Startup and entrepreneurial businesses face plenty of obstacles and pitfalls along the path to sustainability and success. Besides dealing with the obvious challenges, such as earning funding, building a team, and spreading a marketing message, startups are now facing a new menace posed by a far less notable foe.
The poet and activist Audre Lorde is famously quoted as saying “There are no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt.” Patent trolls, individuals or organizations that lay claim to and police the use of intellectual property like innovate concepts, design patents, and even web domains, are proving that this concept can be leveraged against the success of a startup or even a Fortune 500 company. Also known as copyright trolls, these entities do not, in most cases, use the patents, trademarks, or copyrights they own, but rather prevent others from profiting off of the use of ‘owned’ property.
These organizations are highly controversial in nature and detrimental to the success of many other businesses – especially in today’s environment where innovation and technology drive the cutting edge. They operate well within legal limitations, regardless of their poor public perception. A patent, easy to obtain, if valid and infringed in court, can lead to millions of dollars in damages. The ‘business’ of patent or copyright trolling can be particularly attractive, growing the threat.
Awareness of patent trolls is generally low on an entrepreneur or SMB’s radar when creating a strategy to go-to-market or to market to a target audience, but the threat is real. In the case of a fragile young company with little or no safety net, incurring a lawsuit over even the borderline use of a patented idea can be devastating.
Before any business takes a step, the consequences of the decisions being made are constantly evaluated. Considering and thoroughly researching whether someone owns the ideas or technologies powering a business can protect it from a major disaster.