As an entrepreneur in a company with great patents, Daniel Kligler learned that having those patents is no guarantee of success. He shares that a company’s patents must fit its market and advance its strategy. Through his exposure to patents in that role, Kligler was given the opportunity to train as a patent attorney and found his true passion. Now a senior partner at Kligler & Associates, he enjoys learning about new technologies from leading inventors and using his technology and business background to write good patents. Kligler explains that even if patents seem boring, it is crucial for entrepreneurs to pay attention to them because patents can increase the value of a company. Another part of the job he is passionate about is helping his clients on their journey. He says he is satisfied with the success of his clients and helping them avoid some of his past mistakes.
Daniel, tell me about yourself and your path into the patent world.
I started out as an electrical engineer and inventor. I was in the academy for a while. I was involved in two startup companies, neither of which did well. But at another company I was vice president of research and development and was responsible, among other things, for our patent portfolio. We had great patents. We were in digital video before the field really developed. I thought, “We have great patents; we’re sure to be successful.” But we didn’t quite realize that patents aren’t everything. You have to fit the patents with your market; patents must serve your strategy.
As a person responsible for patents, I got to know our patent attorney very well. When I left the company, he invited me to come and train as a patent attorney at his firm. My impression of patents as an inventor was that they were scary, boring, hard to read. I couldn’t imagine it would be interesting. But I said, “What the hell,” and I went and started training to be a patent attorney. It took about two weeks to realize that this was the job that was made for me. It is a great job because you are exposed to different types of technologies. You will be exposed to the most advanced things from people who are leaders in the fields. So it’s endlessly interesting.
Share with me what has changed in your perspective on patents. Why are they something that interests you so much and fulfills you so much?
Most patents are simply not good. They are written by people who don’t really understand what they are writing. A good patent starts with good technical writing. It starts with understanding the technology. If you don’t understand the technology, then your patent won’t create the kind of value you want it to create. The point of a patent is to capture your strategic technology in a way that you can monopolize and prevent your competitors from copying you. You have to know what you are writing. Then you have to understand how to explain it to the examiner at the patent office.
One of the advantages of our company is that I am a technological person, and another is that I have business experience. I learned from my mistakes. I can say, “I know what I did wrong and I can help you avoid it.” Those are the two things that are really important to writing a good patent: understanding the technology and understanding the business.
What could be the powerful impact of having a good patent?
One of the clients I enjoyed working with the most was PrimeSense. They developed the first compact low-cost consumer 3D camera. Microsoft wanted to make this 3D camera, this 3D console. And they failed. This group of young guys from PrimeSense has come up with a new way to make a small, cheap and very reliable 3D camera. We have great patents for them, patents that pretty well shut down their particular approach. When Microsoft set out to build the first generation of Connect, they had to buy their cameras from PrimeSense. But then Apple came looking for 3D camera solutions, and they ended up buying PrimeSense for, I think it was about $450 million, a lot based on their patents, which now belong to Apple. Basically, when you’re a small company, if you’re successful, the big players will just see what they can do to get you out of the way. If you have good patents, it becomes more expensive for them to try to work around you than to buy you, so they buy you.
Tell me why this is almost a calling for you and why this work speaks directly to Daniel Kligler.
I am a technology expert. I just love learning about new technologies. And as a patent attorney, that’s what I get paid for. That’s a great thing. The other thing that really speaks to me is the entrepreneurial side. Being able to help these people along the way, to give them a perspective that they don’t have on the intellectual property side of their business and how that fits into their business strategy, that’s very rewarding for me. It’s a very specific type of mentoring that I really enjoy. Seeing the success of my clients is simply very rewarding and just as satisfying to me as it is my own success. One of my clients told me that even though it’s a small company, sometimes it feels like it’s our only client. That’s how I want clients to feel, as if they have our full attention.
For companies and founders, engineers, inventors, how do we position ourselves to be successful in protecting our inventions in today’s world?
Entrepreneurs and engineers are always overworked. Their attention is divided in many different directions. An engineer will naturally want to spend his time on product development. Patents are boring, at least for engineers. What’s fun is making it up. An entrepreneur should consciously allocate a certain part of his attention. Investors will insist because investors know that patents create long-term value. Patents will contribute to the company’s valuation.
We try to reduce the burden on inventors. There is also a trade-off. We need to get inventors to tell us as much information as possible because more information makes a better patent. But on the other hand, we know that inventors are busy, so we also try to help clients prioritize.
As we move into what seems like a new world, in software and artificial intelligence and deep learning, how can we even know what is patentable and what is not?
Since you mentioned artificial intelligence, that’s one of the really hard areas to get patents and patents that are worth anything. There are two problems with patents. Can you convince the patent office to grant you a patent? And will you really be able to tell if your competitors are copying or using your patent? When it comes to AI, it’s really hard. Because most of the secret sauce is buried deep in the code. You won’t be able to tell if your competitors are using an algorithm that you invented and patented. It is very important in those worlds not only to find things that are actually technological advances that can be protected, but also to find things that can be discovered. One of the questions I always ask inventors is, “How will you know if your competitor is doing it?”
I have a client, a company called Nanit; they make crib cameras. The clever thing about Nanites is that they use AI to analyze the interaction of the parents with the baby in the crib and give advice to the parents. We have some good patents for them. It uses AI to capture and analyze what the parent is doing. Now there is something external, something that we can see that is outside the heart of the software that if a competitor does it, we have a pretty good job of catching them. That’s one example of AI.
Another example, Gong makes these extremely successful call center salesperson analytics systems. They use NLP to track subjects in salespeople’s conversations. They compare the conversation patterns of successful salespeople with less successful salespeople. That way, I can glean tips for guiding less successful salespeople. It’s an AI that comes up with something external, that can be detected.
Michael Matias, Forbes 30 Under 30, is the author of Age is Only an Int: Lessons I Learned as a Young Entrepreneur. He studies artificial intelligence at Stanford University, is a partner at J-Ventures and was an engineer at Hippo Insurance. Matias previously served as an officer in Unit 8200. 20MinuteLeaders is a tech entrepreneurship interview series featuring one-on-one interviews with fascinating founders, innovators and thought leaders who share their journeys and experiences.
Contributing Editors: Michael Matias, Megan Ryan