One of the biggest challenges for the Dashlane team is resolving the equation between security and convenience: On the one hand, the premise of our product is based on security and trust, and it is critical we keep investing in security; on the other hand, we want to offer the simplest user experience and make our product so accessible that it can be used by anyone. This often requires out-of-the-box thinking and finding elegant and innovative solutions to those problems.
To protect these new ideas and Dashlane’s intellectual property, we have decided as a company that it is worth investing in patents.
Just this past January, Dashlane was awarded a new patent—our fifth in total—and I thought I would use the occasion to share how patents work in general and how we leverage our intellectual property here at Dashlane.
So before we dive into Dashlane patent activity, what’s the purpose of a patent anyway?
What does a patent do?
A patent is an intellectual property right originally designed to protect tangible inventions.
Source: KISS Patent
It keeps others from selling an invention for a defined period (20 years in the U.S.). Patent protection is critical to innovation; if others were allowed to copy new products, it would greatly reduce financial incentives to innovate.
Patents are issued and enforced on a nation-by-nation basis, meaning a company with a U.S. patent cannot stop someone in another country from selling a direct copy of the patented item—they just can’t sell it in the U.S. But registering patents is expensive, and many smaller companies (including Dashlane) register only in their primary market.
The first U.S. patent was issued in 1790—178 years before the first software patent. All software patents are described as a “Method and system to [make a computer do something].”
Why do we patent Dashlane technology?
There are 2 main reasons why patenting is important for us as a company.
- To increase Dashlane’s value
- Patents are tangible evidence of a culture of innovation
- Having patents helps market our software to customers
- Patents are themselves assets with standalone value
- To protect our business
- It helps by protecting us from claims that we are infringing other companies’ IP
- Having patents is often the best defense against a patent infringement suit
What’s the process to write a patent?
So how do we actually go about writing patents for Dashlane? Our process applies for patents submitted in the United States, but is pretty similar to that of any country.
It all starts with having a good idea that we think is innovative or a new invention on the market. To evaluate if the idea is worth considering for a patent, we write an abstract. This is helpful to consolidate the ideas and start discussing with our patent lawyers—at Dashlane, we work with Merchant & Gould—to see if they agree there is material for a patent in this idea. Once the abstract is approved, we write the technical material that explains the idea in detail, along with technical diagrams.
This material will be used to submit what is called the “provisional application.” It is not the final patent, but it allows you to mark the date when you start the patenting process with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). At that point, you can already call it a “patent-pending” idea and use it for marketing or sales.
The lawyers write the final patent document, which is called the “non-provisional patent.” We are involved in reviewing and helping fine-tune the document, clarifying the claims. To be honest, for engineers like me, it is painful and complicated. Patents are not written in our day-to-day English. You have to submit the non-provisional patent within a year of submitting the provisional application.
And then we wait, and wait, and wait. It usually takes two to three years for the USPTO to review applications. If they disagree with the patent, we go back and forth with the support of our patent lawyer providing justifications and sometimes adjusting the scope of the patent.
Then one day it gets approved, published, and we celebrate a win for Dashlane.
So all in all, the process takes two to four years. (Remember, the patent is valid in the U.S. only and lasts 20 years.)
What’s patented at Dashlane?
Another patent we were granted covers our account recovery feature for business customers. The scope of the patent covers how to reset a Master Password while maintaining a zero-knowledge approach.
Our last and latest example: The Keep me logged in for 14 days feature in our web extension is protected by a patent. We were able to design a solution to provide a smart compromise between security and convenience in the browser.
Innovating at Dashlane
It is important for Dashlane to keep innovating for the benefit of our customers and for the success of our business. This is a long-term and continuous effort that shows our dedication to finding new solutions to the complicated problem of optimizing for both the security and simplicity of the user experience.
If you are interested to know more, I don’t really encourage you to read our patents (it is really boring stuff), but feel free to read our security white paper or ask questions me questions on Twitter @FredericRIVAIN.