Think California

Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.
—- Ralph Waldo Emerson

This cliché has probably wreaked more businesses than thirteen words in any language. It’s also inspired more than its share of bad MARCOM – claiming your offering is better is not only stale, it’s generally uninteresting. Even if your product is new and improved, don’t count on your patents or other intellectual property to protect you or help you in the market.

Established corporations often value patents and reward employees for securing them. These companies pile up the patents while smaller nimbler competitors grab the customers.

For small companies, intellectual property is not always an advantage and often a net liability. If you’ve got a better idea or mousetrap, the big boys are likely to grab it. You have neither the resources nor the time to prevail in court before you run out of cash and the game is over.

There may be some benefits to intellectual property (IP) – some customers or investors like it, but this does not in itself a business make.

An alternative is to think as they do in California. In other words do as Google, Facebook, Twitter and numerous other firms do and focus on business model innovation over IP. Brian Halligan, CEO of Hubspot, reminded me of this recently at the  Nova Innovation Conference at MIT.

The innovation may be in service delivery, revenue allocation, or aligning what customers value with what, who, how, and when they pay. This is not to say that business model innovation is easier than product innovation. It can require breakthrough thinking. Instead it offers the benefit of sustaining your business, while the competition is still calling plays from a tired patent playbook.

Venture Capitalist, Bob Higgins aptly summarized a Think California approach as “I think historically where we [venture capitalists] fail is when we back technology. Where we succeed is when we back new business models.”