Not every idea, product, or process invented by a company is a good candidate for a patent, maintains Jeffry W. Smith, a patent attorney with the Madison, Wis., law firm Lathrop & Clark LLP. "Each original idea, product, or process must be carefully screened in order to determine whether a patent can provide the right kind of protection. Obtaining patents that cannot be policed or spreading patent resources too thin can be counterproductive. Other options may be more prudent." He suggests that the following factors should be considered:
Competitive advantage, "Patents give a company the right to exclude others from making, using, and selling an invention. If an invention provides a competitive advantage, patent protection should be considered. A patent will prevent competitors from copying the invention. They will be forced to compete using dated technology."
Manufacturing techniques or business methods. Other types of inventions can provide a competitive edge to companies. "A manufacturing technique or business method that reduces costs or improves service can improve profit margins. These methods should be considered for patent protection. They can provide a competitive advantage even when the product itself has not significantly changed."
Safety measures or devices. Inventions that make products safer for consumers, or safer to manufacture, typically are candidates for a patent. "Such patents can be extremely valuable, especially when an industry adopts that safety idea or invention as a standard or regulation. When a required safety device is patented, it can provide a significant advantage over competitors [since] a patent would exclude competitors from using such a device in their products. …