Your competitor just released a new product that has your customers talking. Yeah, it's pretty cool, and also scary -- particularly when they have a new patent. Now what can you do?
The New Patent Scenario
As frustrating as it may seem at the moment, this is a pretty common scenario. A competitor releases a new product and they engage the press to get the word out. Of course it gets some buzz in your industry because it's new, and maybe it does something that others have not. It's also not uncommon to find that a new patent is pending so you don't really know which of the new features it covers.
Often there are claims in the advertising about function that are on the edge of honesty. Claims that serve to spark interest and give your competitor even more attention. These situations can be tough for a while.
How To Best Address It?
First, from a business perspective, relax. If the new widget turns out as smoke and mirrors, you'll shine through in the end. If the new widget turns out a success, you have work to do, but it can't be done overnight. Either way, you have the opportunity to learn a lot. Watch and learn about things that drive your customers and your market. Make sure you take time to learn what these external inputs and customer responses have to teach. Talk with trusted customers, then be honest with yourself about what they are saying. Because your competitor brought the new product to market it gives you the chance to learn, then do it even better. That's powerful.
Second, carefully consider the new patent. Whether it's issued or pending, read it with an open mind and look closely at the claims. The teeth of a patent are in the claims.
If the patent has not yet issued, you may need to do a little sleuthing to find out what they think are the unique features. Sometimes advertising will give hints to that. Also, depending on timeline, the USPTO may publish the patent application prior to issuing the actual patent. Search the USPTO Website and other sources for possible inventors names, or the name of your competitor. Do your homework.
Side Note: A "Patent Pending" condition prior to publication is an enviable position for any company. That makes it difficult for your competitors to know just what is going on. Get there if you can. If your competitor has accomplished that, your job is a little harder, but not impossible. Consult a local patent attorney for help if needed. (If one is not cooperative, find another.)
Dealing With A Competitor's New Patent
Once you understand the situation with your competitor and their new patent (or at least understand a portion of what they consider unique), the next step is to exploit what you are learning about your customers based on their reaction to your competitors new product. You may learn that your competitor did indeed build something desirable for your customers, but you may also find they missed the mark slightly. That is your opening.
There are almost always ways to design around a patent. Sometimes it is not easy, and sometimes you have to shoot at a slightly different target, but you can always bring something. Be creative, or bring in someone like me to assist.
The key is to focus your design and product development efforts on something that will displace or be even better than the product your competitor just released. That means you need to address a slightly different target, or surpass the target your competitor worked toward. Either way, customer reactions to your competitor's product will give clues about how your next widget should improve.
As long as you approach it with a positive outlook, in a way that puts the customer first, you'll most likely be successful. And, you may end up with a new patent of your own.
A Shameless Plug
At Synthesis we are sometimes invited to assist with ways to address a competitor's new patent. (Or an existing patent for that matter.) It's something we do, and something we have been quite successful with. Let us know, we are happy to help with your project as well -- to consult, or to assist with product development. Whatever you need.
For more information about getting an quote, here's an article about getting an accurate engineering quote.
More Patent Info
We've written a lot more on the topic of new patents and intellectual property. These articles are from the perspective of protecting your own new ideas, yet thinking with a twist as a competitor looking in, is valuable. Knowing what you should do when creating a new patent helps you understand what to look for (that your competition missed) to help with your next development stage. It's a big deal -- especially in the engineering and new product development arenas.
So, here are three great references:
- First, as part of The Product Development Process - "When to Patent, and Why"
- Second, in our advise to startups we wrote - "Hey, That’s My Idea !!"
- And Third, for our Inventors Lab - "A Word About Patents"
This material is for you, for education, for advise, and to help you succeed. That's what we're here for.