Patents 101: How to Get Your Idea Noticed

By Kevin Hunter, Chief Commercial Officer & Head of Innovation, Catalina

I was recently asked by a webinar attendee why no one would listen to her about a patent she had scored after a lot of hard work. The answer isn’t simple. People get nervous about utility patents because they’re super long and technical to get through, and there’s always concern that you’re only looking to sell the patent to them or box them in with it. They may feel compromised and cut the conversation short.

The fact is that major players in our industry focus on patenting their own new ideas and products versus buying someone else’s. In 2020, the number of U.S. patents issued grew to an all-time high of 339,512, with Apple and Facebook contributing by filing more patents than in 2019, 2,840 (+12%) and Facebook 1,527 (+16%) respectively, while Microsoft (-5%) and Alphabet (-10%) filed fewer patents in 2020. The overall pace of patent filings is quickening according to the latest figures from Q1 2021.

Catalina has a long history of patenting its products and services, and many of us who work here have filed patents on behalf of the company or as individuals over the years. The U.S. Congress grants three types of business patents to protect different kinds of inventions:

  • A utility patent is a technical document that teaches the public how to use a new machine, process or system.
  • A provisional patent is a less formal document that indicates a person has figured out how to make an invention work. They have a year to file a utility patent or lose the filing date.
  • A design patent offers protection for the design of an item. Software companies use this to protect user interfaces and the shape of touchscreen devices.

If you’re an independent inventor, first make sure your idea is a novel one. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has a helpful tutorial on how to conduct a preliminary search. The next step is to set a business plan that proves your idea’s viability.

Now you’re ready to pitch to investors or customers. When you do, keep these things in mind:

  • Don't lead with the fact that you have a patented idea or product. It taints the opening and burdens the person you're pitching. Instead, lead with the value of your idea or product and answer how it will improve things or create new value.
  • Make the value easy to understand. As you explain the idea, introduce the patent as something that provides credibility to the value and idea. Based on this approach, your experience or expertise can help make your case versus being a barrier.
  • Lastly, throughout the discussion be specific on how the value of an idea or patent applies or is relevant to who you're pitching. For example, this digital circular solution makes it easier for shoppers to find good deals on the products that interest them most.

The retail, media and measurement landscape is evolving at a breakneck pace. While the vast majority of patents for business will continue to be generated by in-house teams of innovators like ours, don’t let the odds stop you from finding some white space to bring your fresh ideas to market.

Kevin Hunter is the co-inventor of 30 U.S. granted patents with 15+ more pending. For its part, Catalina has over 100 granted patents, with many more pending.