"Patenting is an investment in a company's future"

What intellectual property protection methods are suitable for SMEs and their budgets? Hansueli Stamm, Chief Economist of the Federal Institute of Intellectual Property, provides insights.

Technical innovations can be safeguarded through patents, the design of a product through design patents, and a product's or service’s name or logo through trademarks registered with the Federal Institute of Intellectual Property (IPI). However, when and how should a business go about safeguarding its intellectual property? Hansueli Stamm, Chief Economist of the IPI, offers some fundamental guidance.

What benefits does protecting innovations bring to a company?

Hansueli Stamm: Patent protection prevents other companies from using your technical invention. This extends to designs you've created, such as a fabric pattern. If protected by a design patent, it becomes off-limits for others to replicate for a certain duration. This approach offers multiple advantages. Firstly, it enables you to monetize your invention (via the patent) or your design. Secondly, it equips your company with a portfolio of protective rights, enhancing its credibility with potential investors. Intellectual property rights carry significant signaling power, particularly for fledgling enterprises.

Why do some SMEs hesitate to invest in intellectual property protection?

Stamm: A survey we conducted some years ago revealed that one-third of SMEs aren't aware of the risks they face without protection. Another third is cognizant of the issue but tends to push it aside, while the remaining third actively protect their inventions, designs, and trademarks. It's a mix of ignorance and misprioritization. It's important to note that not protecting intellectual property is also a viable option, provided a company makes that choice knowingly, based on an existing protection strategy.

When should a young company consider protecting its inventions?

Stamm: There are three questions that need to be answered: how, when, and where. For startups, the safest method to protect their invention is usually through a patent. Another option, albeit demanding, is to keep it a trade secret. Regarding the question of when, the rule is: as soon as possible! An invention must be new to be patentable. Novelty is absolute: once the idea is published – and it only takes a few presentation slides on the internet or a short video on YouTube – it can no longer be protected by a patent. Finally, a patent is valid – with a few exceptions – only in the country where it was filed (this also applies to trademarks and designs). Therefore, a company must carefully consider its current and possibly future markets and file a patent application for its invention in those territories

Do patents have the potential to generate additional revenue?

Stamm: An important aspect of patents, trademarks, and others is the possibility of licensing these protection rights to third parties for a fee. For example, pharmaceutical sector startups do not have the possibility of producing in large quantities a substance they have developed. For that, they need an established company that can do it for them. However, it should be emphasized that this applies not only to high-tech startups.

What advice do you have for a budget-constrained company?

Stamm: Patent filing represents an investment in the company's future that requires a rigorous protection strategy: how rapidly is the technological field evolving? Who are my competitors? Where do I want patent protection? Patent filing should then be targeted in accordance with this strategy. The filing, examination fees, and annual fees imposed by the state are relatively modest. In Switzerland, they amount to CHF 700 for filing and examination and CHF 1,180 for ten years of patent protection. So, at a minimum, you should budget around CHF 2,000 to prevent others from using your invention for ten years.

Can you outline the IPI's offerings for SMEs?

Stamm: The needs of SMEs and startups are very diverse. We offer a variety of support services. In addition to our information portal specifically designed for SMEs, we have a contact center that provides information in four languages or forwards questions to specialists in our organization. In the field of inventions, we offer accompanied searches assisted by a patent expert to determine whether the invention is new and therefore patentable. This search is often followed by recourse to a network of IP attorneys. Lawyers in this network also provide free advice to SMEs and individuals for 45 minutes on patent protection and software protection through copyright. We also provide checklists for developing a protection strategy for a company and relevant points during the licensing of intellectual property rights. Finally, we offer beginner courses to patent agent training.



Hansueli Stamm, Chief Economist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property (IPI)

Dr. Hansueli Stamm is the Chief Economist at the Federal Institute of Intellectual Property (IPI). He studied at the University of Basel, holds degrees in economics and certified teaching in commercial subjects, and earned a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Freiburg im Breisgau. He also teaches at various institutions, including the University of St. Gallen, where he lectures on intellectual property law and economics.

Last modification 27.09.2023

Top of page

News and useful information for founders and entrepreneurs.