Software Patents & Startups

"No one will sue you for patent infringement till you have money, and once you have money, people will sue you whether they have grounds to or not. So I advise fatalism. Don't waste your time worrying about patent infringement. You're probably violating a patent every time you tie your shoelaces. At the start, at least, just worry about making something great and getting lots of users. If you grow to the point where anyone considers you worth attacking, you're doing well.

We do advise the companies we fund to apply for patents, but not so they can sue competitors. Successful startups either get bought or grow into big companies. If a startup wants to grow into a big company, they should apply for patents to build up the patent portfolio they'll need to maintain an armed truce with other big companies. If they want to get bought, they should apply for patents because patents are part of the mating dance with acquirers.

Most startups that succeed do it by getting bought, and most acquirers care about patents. Startup acquisitions are usually a build-vs-buy decision for the acquirer. Should we buy this little startup or build our own? And two things, especially, make them decide not to build their own: if you already have a large and rapidly growing user base, and if you have a fairly solid patent application on critical parts of your software."

So states Paul Graham and much more in his essay Are Software Patents Evil? that is well worth reading.