Trolling for business

This morning’s Observer column

Question: Six months ago you set up a technology company in your garage. You’ve got your first round of serious funding and can hire people. Which of the following do you employ first? A software engineer? An office manager? A book-keeper? A salesman?

Answer: none of the above. What you may need most of all is a patent lawyer. Otherwise in two years’ time – just when you’ve had the first really big order for 200,000 units of your new gizmo – you may find yourself opening an unpleasantly worded letter from a company based in Virginia or Delaware claiming that the aforementioned gizmo infringes one of their patents and threatening legal action unless you pay them whopping royalties. You have no idea whether this claim would be upheld by a court. But it will cost at least $100,000 in legal fees to find out, and even the hint of litigation will scare off the venture capitalists you desperately need to provide the second round of funding needed to fulfil that first big order.

Welcome to the world of high technology…