Valuing a Patent
One of the most important tasks you will carry out as a patent holder is assigning a monetary value for it. This could become necessary for any number of reasons, such as:
- Selling the patent
- Licensing the patent
- Deciding how much equity to give to business partners investing or working with the patent
None of these decisions can be wisely made without first knowing, at least roughly, what your patent is worth. It is not always an easy task, as patent valuation is a somewhat inexact science. However, whether you have a provisional patent, a design patent, a utility patent, or a plant patent, some key principles should be observed.
You should value your patent with an eye toward the size of the market it could serve. If you own the patent to a new kind of baseball bat, you would want to determine the size of the baseball gear market. Consider this the starting point, for without knowing how much money is spent on similar existing products, you have no valid basis for assigning a worth to your own. After all, wouldn’t you agree that whether your market sees $1 million or $50 million in yearly sales, there would be an impact on how much your patent is worth?
Valuing a Patent: What have comparable patents been valued at or sold for?
One of the benefits of working with a patent attorney is that he or she will have access to comparable patents, or how much similar patents have been valued at or sold for. It could be that a new baseball bat was patented 10 years ago and valued at $500,000. Now, this does not necessarily mean that your patent is worth exactly that. Market forces change all the time, and the further back that similar patent was valued, the less it should influence that value you assign to yours. (Conversely, the more recently a similar patent was valued, the more that valuation should be heeded.)
Nevertheless, it pays to get a read on how similar patents are being valued rather than arbitrarily plucking an attractive number out of the air and assigning that as your patent’s value.
Valuing a Patent: Determine the patent’s validity
One major factor that needs to be considered when valuing anything is risk. In this context, a major risk is that someone who buys or licenses your patent will find that it does not hold up in court – that is, that the courts might decide the patent is invalid. How could this happen, you might ask? The website JournalOfAccountancy.com offers 2 possible scenarios:
“If it is discovered after a patent has been issued that the inventors didn’t meet the statutory requirements for obtaining it–for example, if they weren’t the inventors (35 USC section 102(f)), or had published information about the invention or offered it for sale more than one year before the date of application (35 USC section 102(b))–the patent is invalid and substantially worthless.”
Obviously, this is not desirable and any perceived risk of it happening will reduce what someone is willing to pay for your patent. The solution? Consult your patent attorney on ways to investigate the validity of your patent and convey this to prospective buyers. The more you can eliminate the perception of risk, the higher a value you can assign to your patent.
Valuing a Patent: Does Your Patent Overlap?
Part 3 of our “Patent Facts and Fiction” series says that a patent does not give you exclusive rights to make your invention, only to prevent others from doing so. But what if making your invention would infringe on someone else’s patent? This type of patent overlap is quite common and could lead to your patent being invalidated by the courts. Work with your patent attorney to investigate if any overlap exists and communicate to prospective buyers or licensees that this will not be an issue. Eliminating this risk will allow you to value your patent higher than if it was not addressed.
Valuing a Patent: What are the current substitutes?
No matter what you value your patent at, anyone thinking of buying or licensing it will investigate their alternatives. They will look for the “next best thing” and try to figure out if that would be cheaper than your patent. Since they are going to do this anyway, you had might as well figure out in advance and incorporate it into your valuation. Doing so offers you a strategic advantage – namely that if the next best thing is expensive (or there is no next best thing) you can use this as justification for charging more. Of course, if the next best thing is inexpensive or close to what you are asking, this could suggest a need to lower your valuation.
Valuing a Patent: Why are you selling/licensing?
You cannot value your patent in a vacuum, looking for the one, true, “right” value. Rather, you should assign a value by keeping your unique needs in mind. Why are you selling the patent? If you are just looking to cash out fast without a lot of meetings, delays, and deliberations, it might make sense to use a lower valuation. Money today is worth more than money tomorrow, and holding out for a trivially or even substantially higher price may not actually be worth it. Or, maybe it is – the point is that you need to make this decision consciously and not out of egotism or greed.
Valuing a Patent: Proceed with Caution
Keeping these 6 tips in mind will not instantly generate the “right” patent value for you, but it will ensure that whatever value you decide upon is far more realistic and valid than it would have otherwise been.
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