Case Detail

Case Summary

ttools (B): The Value of a Patent to the Entrepreneur

Case Number: 5-306-509(B), Year Published: 2006, Revision Date: September 23, 2015

HBS Number: KEL280

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Authors: James Gerard Conley; Feng Qu; Geoff Nudd; Cooper Marcus

Key Concepts

Intellectual Property, Patents, Design Patent, Utility Patent, Resource Advantage, Resource Disadvantage, Branding, Technology Management, Distribution, Distribution Channels, Entrepreneurship, Product Management, Marketing Management, Direct Marketing, Consumer Marketing, Innovation


A self-employed innovator developed and patented a novel combination pen and stylus device to complement the recently released Palm Pilot personal digital assistant. He presented his design to Palm under a Non-Disclosure Agreement to discuss the market response to the product, and ttools was allowed to advertise the device in a monthly email to Palm customers. Subsequent to ttools’ release of the Throttle pen/stylus, Palm and the design firm IDEO introduced a similar pen/stylus device that appeared to infringe on ttools’ patent. ttools, being a small, resource-constrained company, was in a precarious position. Its competitive advantage and rights as a patent holder were being threatened. It had few financial resources to draw upon, and thus, its livelihood as a company was at stake. The case investigates the options ttools had available to respond to Palm and IDEO’s actions.

Learning Objectives

The objective of this case is to provide students with an understanding of how utility and design patents may be used by resource-poor entrepreneurs and inventors for building and maintaining a first-mover advantage.

Number of Pages: 21

Extended Case Information

Teaching Areas: Entrepreneurship, Family Business, Management, Manufacturing, Marketing, Strategy, Technology

Geographic: United States

Industry: Personal Digital Assistant Accessories

Organization Name: ttools

Organization Size: Small

Year of Case: 1999