This post was published originally on Medium
“The only protection you have from me copying you, is doing something really really hard”
– CEO of Major Technology Company
Last week, a bill containing key pieces of needed patent reform was killed in the Senate. The legislation was aimed at reducing patent trolls by preventing them from bringing baseless lawsuits to extract concessions from companies without the financial strength to take the issue to court. There is another side to the patent reform debate that gets talked about less, it’s the side where small companies aren’t really even protected in many cases by patents. We all file them, we pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for them, but it feels like we’re checking the box, not really adding real protection.
Last year when we were raising money for SOLS a CEO of a large publicly traded technology company asked us how we would protect our technology from competitors. The first thing out of our mouth was “oh, we filed patents” — without hesitation he chuckled and told us that the only protection we had from him not taking our idea was to do something really difficult. That statement stuck with me for the last year and haven’t asked a company how they plan on protecting their IP since — either what they are doing is hard or it’s not.
Brad Bernthal from the University of Colorado once told me that a patent is only as strong as the willingness to enforce it. It seems to me that our patent system has figured out a way to both screw the little guy by enabling fraudulent patent trolls and at the same time taken away protection from the innovators that need it most — small cash strapped companies. In the current environment it has become painfully obvious that the only protection is the difficulty with which someone could copy what you’ve created whether that be a technology, community or process.
If you don’t have answers to your problems after a four-hour run, you ain’t getting them.
– Christopher McDougall (Born To Run)
As I prepared for my first marathon last year, people kept asking me why I was running the race. What compelled me to spend all my free time running (and at the time fundraising for CCFA). While there were personal reasons for this specific race, what was apparent is that a ton of my fellow entrepreneurs had done or were preparing to do some endurance activity themselves. From mountaineering to marathons to triathlons – it was clear that the entrepreneurially inclined also have a higher than normal participation rate in endurance sports.
What is it about pushing yourself to physical limits that appeals to us? Some say it’s the same drive and motivation to succeed that lead them to entrepreneurship in the first place. Honestly that’s just not it. Certainly the skills and character needed for professional success helps someone complete their chosen activity – but it’s not the “why”. After 6 months of reflection and a few more races, it’s become apparent that the thing I seek is myself. The voice in my head that becomes even more introspective, even more truthful. It’s a place to reconcile the decisions of my past and their results and think through the decisions I currently face in a physical and emotional place that has been stripped bare of its armor.
The startup environment is so emotionally and physically demanding that we develop protection, both from the outside world and from ourselves. There is something about bumping up against your physical limits that breaks down even the strongest armor.
You come to me with ideas
You say they’re just pieces, so I’m puzzled
– Eminem (Dr Dre – I Need a Doctor)
People usually respond in one of 2 ways to hearing about a new idea. Either they say “how can this work” or they say “this can’t work because of X”. One reaction opens a dialog and the other shuts it down. Some people don’t understand that the idea itself doesn’t matter, it’s just a jumping off point for a conversation. When the conversation is shut down and you end up having to defend the basic validity of having an idea – it really kills the mood.
It’s just an idea for god’s sakes!
Ideas aren’t inherently bad or good, they are jumping off points for thinking. Who can say which of a barrage of ideas was the one that led to a radical solution to a tough problem? Nobody. It’s just too fluid to judge. The conversation around the idea is what is important and is vital to expanding how we think through problems and the interact with the world around us.
This simple reaction has become a simple test when meeting and hiring new people and it has proved remarkably adapt at predicting how well we’ll get along.