Patents are important when you have invented something new, it is there to protect the creator from other larger companies copying it and making money when the creator has in all likelihood spent thousands of pounds and countless hours developing it. Patents cover different territories, for example, you can obtain a UK patent, or you can obtain an international patent. In an ideal world everybody would like to be covered internationally but this is very long and drawn out process and may well take years to complete, and even then it isn’t certain it will be granted as it does need to demonstrate a clear difference from what is already on the market and then it needs to be proven that nobody else has already done it. Some large companies such as Apple, Microsoft and Facebook will often register hundreds of patent applications a year to protect against other companies bringing a product to market before them – for us mere mortals however, we simply don’t have the time of money to be able to do this.
Often people get too focussed on patents and lose site of the overall business, in the time you spend trying to get a successful patent application others could well be developing the same thing and bring it to market before. The single most important thing in business is to do things first, even if you don’t have a patent if you bring a product to market before anyone else you will always be associated with it, even if others copy it afterwards. The other important thing to remember is that often when you do this, larger companies will then try and buy it off you or license it as it is cheaper than them trying to develop something from scratch and therefore you can make a lot of money very quickly.
The other problem with patents is that sometimes they just aren’t enforceable. China is well known for shamelessly copying products and selling them, even coming up with virtually the same name as the original. Nobody will ever be able to successfully sue a Chinese company so even if you use commercial litigation solicitors extensively and spend millions, you are unlikely to yield any results as Apple have found out.
The sum total is that it is more important to get your product to market, let customers see your company as the face of the product and then even if others copy you will still be the market leader.