How should a startup deal with existing, ambiguous patents?


I've been thinking about a new idea I want to work on. After searching the USPTO, I found that there are many (hundreds) of patents around what I am wanting to work on, with a slew being very similar to my idea.

After reading through a bunch of these patents, I found myself getting really upset with how vague they were. Nothing explicitly matched my idea, but they were effective at striking fear into my heart and have almost dissuaded me from trying. However, my gut tells me to build it first and get permission later.

I get a feeling that almost any entrepreneur with an idea could find a patent that may be very close to what they want to do.

How should I handle all this IP mess? Keep in mind that cash is a precious resource at this stage.

Patent Intellectual Property

asked Apr 16 '11 at 12:50
227 points

2 Answers


It's all a silly game where the only one's that really benefit are the lawyers. As Kekito says, they only go after you when you have some money, so if you have some money you can always create a randomly generated patent as defense.

You'd probably never go into business if you checked all patents, so ignore them and focus on making basic revenues.

answered Apr 16 '11 at 21:57
David Benson
2,166 points
  • If you're going to get a defensive patent, try to join the Open Invention Network and benefit from their defensive patent pool. And gain major kudos from developers at the same time. – Robin Green 13 years ago
  • The OIN is specific to Linux, it's unlikely this relates to Linux. – David Benson 13 years ago


Go back in time and stop yourself reading those patents. If you can be proven to have been aware of a patent (and a question like yours above might count as evidence in court!) and are later found to have infringed it, you could be liable for triple damages for infringement.

The only sensible course of action is never to read patents that are still "live". If you must read patents, only read ones that have expired (or ones that you have a license to use already).

answered Apr 17 '11 at 02:25
Robin Green
111 points

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