In the world of startups and innovation, patents hold a special place. They can be the lifeblood of innovation or merely vanity projects. Some patents have limited economic value, while others can catapult startups to business nirvana. As IP strategists and patent attorneys, we are always on the lookout for the secret sauce that makes a patent truly impressive and worth pursuing.

In this article, we will delve deeper into the concept of strategic patents and how they can impress investors and unlock the full potential of groundbreaking discoveries. We will also explore some real-life examples of successful strategic patents, providing a clearer picture of their impact on startups and the industries they disrupt.

1. Platform Patents: Creating an Industry with a Single Stroke

Platform patents, also known as “fundamental patents,” are the Holy Grail of intellectual property. These patents create choke-points on new technology commercialization and can give birth to entire industries. A prime example of a platform patent is the famous Wright Brothers’ patent on their “flying machine” in 1906. This patent granted them a monopoly over the burgeoning aviation industry and created a competitive moat around their innovation.

Another example is the foundational CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology patent held by Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier. This patent has revolutionized the field of biotechnology and has the potential to create an entire industry around gene editing.

To impress investors with a platform patent, startups need to demonstrate how their patent creates a competitive advantage in a new and emerging technology. By showcasing how the patent can corner the market and build a solid foundation for future growth, startups can attract investors and secure the necessary funding for growth.

2. One (Big) Trick Pony Patents: Narrow but Powerful

While not as transformative as platform patents, one-trick pony patents can still provide significant value to a startup. These patents have a narrow scope but can greatly enrich a large business. For instance, a startup that has developed a new, highly efficient battery technology can use a one-trick pony patent to protect its invention and create a significant advantage in the energy storage market.

Take for example the patent held by Velcro Industries for its hook-and-loop fasteners. This seemingly simple invention has become a staple in various industries, from clothing to aerospace, bringing significant value to the company.

Startups should focus on showcasing the unique and marketable aspects of their one-trick pony patent. By highlighting the potential for market disruption and the value it can bring to a larger business, startups can pique the interest of investors and gain their support.

3. Strategic Patent Families: Guarding a New Frontier

Strategic patent families are portfolios of patents that protect a whole new field of innovation. These patents work in tandem to create a comprehensive barrier against competitors, ensuring that the startup has the freedom to operate and grow within its chosen market. A classic example of a strategic patent family is the portfolio of patents held by Tesla on its electric vehicle technology.

Another example is Apple’s extensive patent portfolio covering various aspects of its iPhone technology, from design to hardware and software innovations. These strategic patent families have helped Apple maintain its competitive edge in the highly competitive smartphone market.

Startups should be cautious when building a strategic patent family. It’s essential to file all necessary patents before earlier ones be published, as this can compromise the strength and value of the entire portfolio. By presenting a well-crafted and comprehensive patent family to investors, startups can demonstrate their commitment to protecting their innovations and dominating their chosen market.

4. Tactical Patent Clusters: Extending Commercial Reach and Fostering Collaboration

In today’s increasingly interconnected world, complex technologies often require cross-licensing agreements rather than litigation. Tactical patent clusters are collections of patents that provide valuable IP currency, allowing startups to extend their commercial reach and collaborate with other industry players. An example of a tactical patent cluster is the collection of patents held by various companies in the smartphone industry, which often engage in cross-licensing agreements to share innovations and avoid costly legal battles.

Another example is the patent pool created by the MPEG Licensing Authority (MPEG LA), which includes patents related to video compression technology from multiple companies. This pool enables companies to license essential patents for video compression in a streamlined manner, fostering collaboration and innovation in the industry.

Startups can impress investors by showcasing their tactical patent clusters and demonstrating their willingness to collaborate with other industry players. By fostering a spirit of cooperation and shared innovation, startups can create a more robust and thriving market for their products and services.

5. Litigation Patents: A Weapon for Legal Battles

Litigation patents, while not necessarily groundbreaking in terms of innovation, can become valuable assets for startups when facing legal challenges from competitors. These patents may not create a significant competitive advantage in the market, but they can be effectively used to defend a company against infringement claims or even assert claims against competitors. By holding litigation patents, startups can deter potential legal threats and create a more stable environment for their business to grow.

For example, Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility in 2011 was largely driven by the need to strengthen its patent portfolio and protect itself from potential litigation in the smartphone market. Motorola’s extensive patent portfolio provided Google with a stronger position in legal disputes against competitors like Apple and Microsoft.

When building their patent portfolio, startups should consider acquiring or developing litigation patents that can be used as leverage in legal battles. By demonstrating to investors that they have a strong legal defense in place, startups can instill confidence in their ability to protect their intellectual property.

6. Defensive Publications: A Cost-effective Alternative

Defensive publications, also known as statutory invention registrations or defensive disclosures, provide startups with a cost-effective alternative to traditional patent protection. Instead of filing a patent application, a startup can publish a detailed description of its invention, effectively putting it in the public domain. This prevents competitors from obtaining a patent on the same invention, as the published disclosure serves as prior art.

Defensive publications can be particularly useful for startups operating in rapidly evolving industries, where the value of a patent may diminish quickly due to technological advancements. By publishing their inventions defensively, startups can save on patent application costs while still protecting their innovations from being patented by competitors.

IBM, for example, has been known to utilize defensive publications as part of its IP strategy. By publishing certain inventions instead of pursuing patent protection, IBM can maintain a strong presence in the industry and deter competitors from encroaching on its innovations.

Startups should consider incorporating defensive publications into their IP strategy when appropriate. By showcasing a well-rounded and cost-effective approach to intellectual property protection, startups can demonstrate their commitment to innovation and prudent resource management to investors.


The world of strategic patents is vast and diverse, with different types of patents offering unique benefits to startups. By understanding the potential value of platform patents, one-trick pony patents, strategic patent families, tactical patent clusters, litigation patents, and defensive publications, startups can craft a comprehensive IP strategy that aligns with their business goals and impresses investors.

As IP strategists and patent attorneys, we are dedicated to helping startups navigate the complex world of intellectual property and maximize the potential of their innovations. With the right strategic patents in place, startups can conquer new frontiers and achieve unparalleled success, shaping the future of their respective industries.