A growing phenomenon in recent years is that of the lean start-up. A core question that every lean start-up has to answer is “Can we build a sustainable business around this set of products and services?” If the answer is “No”, then the start-up must pivot. It has to “make a structural course correction to test a new fundamental hypothesis about the product, strategy and engine of growth” (http://theleanstartup.com/principles).
One possible course correction is to enter a new space or market. Previously, we explained how patents can provide a low-cost method of entering a new market. Patents allow a company to cover use cases for its inventions outside of the intended use case without having to spend large amounts on prototyping and developing. So, if the lean start-up has well-drafted patents that cover use cases in a new space, it will be able to secure a strong new competitive position by excluding others from using its inventions within this market. Clearly patents can be very useful in the process of pivoting.
Patents can assist with pivoting in another way. As Nobel Prize winning author John Steinbeck once said, “Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.” While Steinbeck was talking about writing novels, the same could be said of drafting patents. The process usually starts out with a few ideas, but as the drafter and inventor work together to write the patent, pretty soon more ideas come to the fore. If these ideas include use cases for the invention outside the core space, the inventor now has some ideas available for the lean start-up to use to pivot by entering a new market.
So, not only can well-drafted patents assist in pivoting, but the process of drafting patents itself may yield new ideas that can assist in pivoting. For a start-up in a hurry, that’s a pretty good return on investment!