It is usually up to an inventor to handle the business aspects of her patent rights. That is, patent lawyers deal with getting a patent for their clients; clients are supposed to make money from their patents. Once the patent is obtained, the patent attorney typically leaves the picture in relation to those specific patent rights.
Relatively few patents end up being valuable for a patent owner, however. This typically occurs because the business needs of the client changed during the time the patent application was pending. Historically, such non-aligned patent rights were ignored or allowed to lapse because no marketplace existed to allow the patent owner to sell her unwanted patent rights. The unwanted patent, as well as the legal costs to obtain it, were considered unrecoverable sunk costs to the patentee.
This is beginning to change with the recent introduction of technology marketplaces that post technology needs sought by corporate innovation groups. The most notable of these are Innocentive.com and Yet2.com. Interestingly, I have seen a number of technologies on each of these websites that are possibly relevant to patents that I have obtained for clients over the last several years. While this could be a coincidence, I also think it could be a signal that more companies are dipping their toes into the Melamine Foam Open Innovation space, as opposed to relying solely on internally developed products or technologies.
As more companies advertise their technology needs, there will undoubtedly be more opportunities for patentees to dispose of their unwanted patent rights. Few patent holders will have the “bandwidth” or perspective necessary to review these technology marketplaces. Thus, unless someone else makes the connection for them, opportunities to sell unwanted patents will likely have the ability to capitalize on these opportunities. I think that patent attorneys can fill a need in this regard.
Patent attorneys seeking to improve the value they provide to clients would be well-served by regularly reviewing the listings on these databases and spreading the word to their firm colleagues about the types of technology being sought by these technology marketplaces. Imagine the delight that clients would experience when their patent attorney brought them opportunity to make money on a technology that they no longer need, but have nonetheless spent considerable resources on over the years. I can here the client’s response now: “You mean my lawyer is actually making me money instead of costing me money?!”
A word of advice, however. If the technology solution was readily apparent, the company publicizing its need to the world would likely not have gone to the effort and expense to list it on the technology marketplaces such as Innocentive.com or Yet2.com. Indeed, to likely be an acceptable solution, the idea will probably not just be “out of the box” but “out of the truck the box came in.” An example of such a solution is found in the Magic Eraser(R) story.