Patents can be the lifeblood of a technology company.
They indicate that you’re innovative, you employ bright people, and you’re always thinking about how to do work smarter.
Patents can help deter your competitors from embarking on R&D for a similar work process, hardware or software. And they are appealing to investors – whether you’re on the stock exchange or not – so they tangibly add to a company’s value. Being perceived as an innovator has definite financial rewards.
For the person who is granted the patent, it’s like a trophy that can take two or three years to win, but its significance can seriously increase one’s earning potential for a lifetime.
I’ve been thinking about the importance of patents lately because we recently held a ceremony for Hexagon PPM software architect Keith Harvey, who was just granted his third patent … in three years. And he’s busy working on the paperwork for a fourth!
Keith’s an interesting guy. Even though he started school at California State University (Stanislaus) as a computer science major, he fairly quickly determined that being self-taught was more his style. So, he dropped out and immediately started his career. His work in user interfaces/user experiences has provided incredible benefits to our products.
I know Keith appreciates how our company has backed him in his patent pursuits. It takes a sizeable investment to make a patent happen. Our patent attorney Victor Pate (who manages 450 patents for our company) gave me the break down on how much is spent on legal work to secure a patent, per our experience:
- Preparing the application: $15,000-20,000
- Filing fees to the US patent office: $2,000
- Additional legal fees post-filing to patent grant: $6,000-$12,000
And that’s just for a patent that protects your intellectual property in the United States. It’s even more expensive in some countries, like Japan.
Regardless, our leadership wants to capitalize on what’s being created by our team members and capture more patents. That not only presents legal costs, but our policy is to give cash bonuses to our people for their patent work: $3,000 when it’s filed and another $5,000 when it’s granted. And we’re happy to do it.
We believe there is a great deal of technology our teams have created that are patent-worthy. Keith’s advice is to not assume everything’s been invented. Also, many patents aren’t groundbreaking ideas; they are improvements on existing ideas.
Keith told me that the way he approaches coming up with new patents is to look at our current products and envision the challenges they would face running on new technologies and devices in the future. This is great fuel for new ideas and approaches, “and the ideas usually hit me in the parking lot as I’m walking to my car.”
I encourage technology companies who haven’t delved into the costly, time-consuming task of patent work to consider it. Besides all the things I’ve mentioned, the workforce loyalty it creates is invaluable.
I asked Keith if he ever gets approached by recruiters, and this is what he said: “These patents have raised my visibility and enhanced my credibility inside and outside my company. It does attract a lot of career recruiters, but I tell them that I’m happy right where I am.”
Hexagon PPM Executive Vice President Melanie Eakes oversees development, global support and quality assurance. She works at PPM corporate headquarters in Madison, Alabama, USA.