In the tech space, most founders are aware of the need to protect their company’s Intellectual Property (IP).
But how far do they need to go? And how do they manage it strategically?
Like other tech founders, Deepak Dutt found himself asking these questions. Dutt is the CEO of Zighra, an Ottawa-based firm specializing in AI-powered authentication tech for mobile devices.
Hoping to implement an IP strategy rather than applying for patents ad hoc, Dutt reached out to Stratford Managers, a management consulting and services firm based in Kanata.
Dutt was connected with Stratford’s David Fraser, Vice President, IP Strategy. As an experienced entrepreneur, engineer and patent agent, Fraser was quickly able to assess Zighra’s needs and implement a strategy for protecting its IP.
Five years down the road, Zighra has successfully filed 15 patents, two of which have been granted, and has several more pending approval.
Patents are an invaluable tool for innovators in the tech space because they allow inventors and designers to protect the rights to their creations.
“It’s recognition from the various governments saying, ‘You’re the first one to have done this,’” explains Fraser.
Like many startups, Zighra spent the bulk of its time on R&D when it was founded nine years ago. As Dutt explains, the team was generating a great deal of IP, but not filing patents on any of it.
“We wanted to have more of a strategy,” says Dutt. With Stratford’s help, Zighra now has a methodical approach to filing patents.
Each country has its own governing body for IP, meaning inventors need to be strategic in where they file.
Typically, it’s important to file in markets where the product will be manufactured and sold. Businesses must also consider where their competition is located in terms of R&D, manufacturing and sales.
The process for filing can be costly as a result of fees, labour and time. Stratford helps Zighra be selective in what countries it files in; often, the firm files in the United States before applying anywhere else.
Tech firms must also be conscious of the type of patents they are filing.
As a new firm, Zighra often found itself haphazardly applying for a single patent and then quickly moving onto the next one. Inventors have the option to keep a patent open, so they can return to it later and file patents for future iterations of a product as it evolves over time.
“You don’t think about keeping it open,” says Dutt. “This is a common mistake that we see in the industry.”
Under Fraser’s guidance, Zighra is now more strategic in the applications it submits and generally keeps them open under an extended patent family.
Defending Zighra's tech
With two patents under its belt and more in the works, Zighra now commonly calls on Stratford to help defend the company’s existing inventions.
As a relatively small company, with 10 employees, Zighra’s patents serve as a great equalizer in discussions with larger corporations.
“It lends us credibility,” says Fraser.
And though Zighra’s patents are useful in staking the firm’s claim to its own technology, both Dutt and Fraser are conscious of leaning on them too heavily.
“You don’t want to be known as a troll,” explains Dutt. “That’s the last thing we want.”
Zighra’s first patent was granted in April 2017 and the next one followed in October. Around the same time, Apple released the iPhone X, the first of its smartphones to feature facial recognition technology.
For Zighra, the timing couldn’t have worked out better, as many competing smartphone manufacturers are now trying to come up with their own spin on the authentication technology. As a result, many companies are working to build AI chips into their phones.
“That makes our patent very valuable,” says Dutt. As more startups crop up in Zighra’s industry, the firm’s patents serve as a great differentiator.
“Authentication security, it’s a space where patents become very important,” he adds.
As a seasoned IP veteran, Fraser knows how challenging it can be for startups to allot time and attention to protecting their work in the early stages. Between developing the product and trying to close sales, it’s easy to let IP strategies slip through the cracks.
“You’re not patent experts, and you don’t really have time for it anyway,” says Fraser. “We take that worry off your hands.”
Learn more about how Stratford Managers can take your IP strategy to the next level at StratfordManagers.com.
Language as an obstacle
Though patents have become essential to Zighra’s business, the company faces a unique challenge when applying to protect its IP.
The firm’s tech, which is integrated into mobile devices, is powered by an artificial intelligence that reads the user’s movements. It learns an individual’s mannerisms, which then enables the AI to determine whether a device is being used by its owner or not.
Since it’s impossible to patent human activity, writing an application that properly captured the technology’s methods was difficult.
“The language becomes very important,” says Deepak Dutt, Zighra’s CEO. “We had to find a different way to explain the same thing in a more computational way.”