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Startups' New Creed: Patent First, Prototype Later

Startups must protect their ideas before building them
Patent lawyer Jeffrey Schox sometimes invests in the startups he takes on as clients
Patent lawyer Jeffrey Schox sometimes invests in the startups he takes on as clientsPhotograph by Tyler Gourley for Bloomberg Businessweek

Craig Ciesla set out five years ago to do something ridiculous and wonderful. He wanted to develop technology that would cause buttons to rise up out of the normally flat screens found on smartphones, tablets, TVs, and other devices when they were needed, and to disappear when they weren’t. Go to type an e-mail on a tablet and a keyboard appears as if by magic, only to vanish moments later and leave behind a nice, smooth screen.

Ciesla, a physicist, had a name for his company: Tactus Technology. But before he began bringing his invention to life, Ciesla decided to sit down and hammer out a patent application, spending much of his company’s early days playing lawyer rather than inventor. “We filed 20 applications before even doing our first round of outside funding,” Ciesla says. “Our main office was my dining room table.”