Lessons from 6 years and 11 patents
In early 2014 Okay applied for its very first patent. The patent was for a mechanism allowing computer users to use a phone, even a landline, as a second factor during a strong customer authentication. Since then we have applied for 10 more patents, both nationally and internationally. In the 6 years since that first patent application, we have learned quite a bit about how to apply for patents. In this post, I’ll try to summarise the most important lessons we have learned around the process of applying for a patent.
Use a professional service
First, and most importantly, use a professional service to help you with formulating the application and taking care of all the formalities. The patent process is quite complicated, extremely slow, and very much based on passing around PDF files, even scanned versions of printed letters. There are a lot of formal requirements that are not obvious for a non-specialist lawyer. In Europe, the European Patent Office is the place to go if you want to take a look at how the process is done. Oslo Patentkontor has been a helpful agent for Okay when applying for our patents
Be specific and precise
The second lesson is that it is really, really important to be specific and precise in the description of your invention. Writing a good patent can be harder than writing a paper for scientific publication, as the options for revising your submission is much more limited with a patent than with a paper. This means that you have to think of everything - or at least as much as possible - before the patent application has been submitted. Having a good professional service can of course help, but in the end, it is you as a professional who has to do the hard work of writing the text. Having someone who is not an expert in the field read the patent to check if it is clear enough for them to understand, can also be a help. Oh, and having good drawings helps a lot too.
Make sure that your patent is unique
The third lesson is that you should make sure that your patent is unique and not obvious. Or, at least as unique as possible. This means that you have to search for similar, already existing patents before you start to write the text of your application and that if your invention is somewhat similar to prior art you should show how it is different. In Europe the term used is that the patent should have an “inventive step” while in the US the word “non-obvious” is used more often. In either case, it is important that an expert in the field would agree that your patent is a solution that they wouldn’t have thought of themselves, given the same problem. Thus, it can be a good idea to have someone you trust read the text of the patent, or at least parts of it, to see how they would have faced the issue.
Read already granted patents
The fourth, and last, lesson is to read already granted patents in your field. Your patent should be at least as good as the average patent that is granted, and there is no shame in learning from earlier patents. One issue that you might meet as well is that your national patent office is a lot more lenient than the international patent offices. This means that you might be tricked into using the same claims for an international patent as you did for a local patent. Of course, you might have done everything correctly the first time, but it is a good idea to revise the patent before applying internationally. Certainly, if your national patent examiner had issues with your patent you should make sure that those specific parts have been revised in your international application.
Our first patent was (surprisingly!) granted in Norway, but as it was very obvious that the market had moved from dumbphones and landlines on to smartphones we didn’t take it further than a lab prototype. What we instead focused on was what is now the core of Okay’s technology: Protecting the strong customer authentication process on the devices that people are likely to use today, their smartphone.