“Sometimes you don’t really know the value of what you have, but if you have opportunities to capture that value and patent it effectively, it preserves that opportunity in the future.” Tim Szeto, CEO, TITAN Haptics
The story of TITAN Haptics begins with a patent - a patent that Nanoport Technology Inc. filed as a matter of routine, even though it didn’t touch on their core business and they weren’t sure it would be valuable. One of Nanoport’s investors, who happened to have a background in haptics, noticed the patent and recognized its potential. He encouraged Nanoport to take a closer look at the technology, which turned out to be a new kind of haptic motor that no one had seen before. This fortuitous series of events led to the creation ofTITAN Haptics, a haptics motor startup that’s using magnetic levitation to transform users’ interactions with technology and media through touch. TITAN Haptics now has 20 employees, more than $1M revenue, 12 granted patents and many additional patent applications.
I recently had the opportunity to talk with Tim Szeto, TITAN Haptics’ CEO, about the company’s IP and how it contributes to the startup’s success. He explained that even with that initial patent in hand, moving into the crowded haptics space wasn’t a given. There are many patent portfolios that cover various areas of haptics technology and most of these portfolios are owned by large players. These patent “thickets” make it challenging for customers to implement haptics in their technology and make it more difficult for competitors to find a competitive niche.
It was very important to TITAN Haptics leadership that they understood their differentiators. They decided to undertake a freedom to operate (FTO) search as well as a review of the haptics patent landscape. Their research focused on countries where most of the R&D and production for haptic motors occurs, namely Japan and China, with the results allowing them to sculpt the claims of these follow-on patents to focus on additional novel aspects of their technology. This emphasis on their differentiators helped them grow their customer base and gave them an edge with investors, as it enabled them to articulate their tech’s novelty when seeking financing and allowed them to anchor their tech’s value with granted patents.
TITAN Haptics balances international patent applications, which provide a longer lead time to secure financing and finalize an invention, with USTrack One patent examination procedures that, for a fee, allow companies to get an examiner’s feedback (and hopefully approval) much more quickly than via a regular patent filing.
Acknowledging that obtaining patents can be costly, Tim underlined that patents don’t make sense for every company, even if they're available. “You need to know what value you’re hoping to get from spending time, energy, and money obtaining patents,” he cautioned.“Make sure it makes sense for where you’re at with the company, and don’t forget ongoing costs. Filing five international patent applications today can cost $20K but when the time comes to enter national jurisdictions, your costs can balloon to $100k. If you’re not ready and don’t have the budget to move forward, you’ll have wasted that time and money.”
Tim pointed out that knowing whether something is or isn’t patentable is important. Having tech that’s not patentable isn’t a fatal flaw, but the business and IP strategies for bringing non-patentable tech to market will differ. He acknowledged that it’s much more challenging to get software patents than it is to patent a device, and a company’s strategy may be markedly different depending on their focus. He also underlined that a single patent isn’t always that useful; it’s much more effective to patent a core technology that can serve as a solid foundation fora robust patent portfolio. He suggested that if you do have something novel and patentable in an interesting space, you have to defend it vigorously to extract its maximum potential and value.
Protecting your innovations until you can assess their potential is crucial. Tim pointed out that engineers working on a problem are focused on finding a solution and not necessarily on whether or not their solution is novel and non-obvious (and therefore likely patentable). Startups need to implement systems and processes to ensure that they capture and protect the IP they create. On the innovation capture side, companies with in-house legal counsel or IP managers can encourage them to attend engineering meetings in order to help spot potentially patentable inventions.
Nanoport and TITAN Haptics’ focus on identifying and protecting their innovations early on, and the systematic ways in which they approach these challenges, have greatly contributed to their success. They’ve taken an approach that gives them maximum flexibility and that allows them to take advantage of opportunities as they come up.
If you’d like to learn more about IP in order to make the most of your startup’s innovative tech, check out ventureLAB’s IP blog series. ventureLAB clients and alumni also have access to free IP Strategy development support - you can reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
About TITAN Haptics
TITAN Haptics develops advanced haptic motors for smartphones, consoles and touchscreen devices.Based on a solid-state magnetic suspension, TITAN’s patented Linear MagneticRam (LMR) technology offers a console-like experience in smaller devices, key for delivering virtual buttons and AAA-gaming on portable devices.To learn more, visit titanhaptics.com.
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