Time-to-market is more critical than IP
I know this will be a controversial statement, I accept there will be valid exceptions, but the trend is there: Time-to-market is more critical to commercial success than protection of Intellectual Property (IP).
Today’s imperative is to capture the mass market straight away. The days are gone when companies could be content with selling to price-insensitive customers first, then gradually decrease the price to capture a bigger and bigger share of the mass market. Why? Because in a “flat world”, competitors will copy the idea and capture whatever market territory has been left vacant. And it will happen fast. Even with a patented product, chances are that competitors will leverage their innovation capabilities to come up with a product that meets the same need without infringing on the patent. All sales people know it is much easier (or at least less costly) to keep a customer than to gain a new one. Therefore, whoever captures the mass market first wins.
This does not mean that IP aspects can be ignored entirely. Since the innovating enterprise does not want to infringe on somebody else’s patents, it has to take steps to ensure freedom of action: running a patent survey (to avoid infringing) and doing some form of disclosure of its innovation (to be able to claim prior art if someone else tries to patent later). The point is that these steps are a lot quicker and cheaper than patenting, and time is of the essence.
Some valid exceptions may come from the pharmaceutical industry where going around a patent may not be that easy, and the patenting steps takes less time than all the tests and field trials required to get the necessary approvals. This exception highlights a key question that innovators need to ask themselves: will patenting delay commercialisation? If the answer is yes, forget it, capture the market before someone else does.