That “your patent strategy ought to align with your overall business strategy” is an easy thing to say. It’s also a little trite and potentially misleading. The statement implies that a patent strategy follows a business strategy, which should not be the case – the two ought to inform each other. Additionally, the statement presupposes that you know your business. Do you?
"Know Your Business – A Necessary First Step"
McDonalds realized at an early point in its corporate existence that at its core it is a real estate company. The fast food part is largely a means to serving the real estate ends [McDonalds Is a Real Estate Company; How McDonalds Really Makes Its Money]. This is not to say that the burger part isn’t important – franchisees have to eat, after all. However, to view McDonalds as merely a fast food chain would miss the point that McDonalds is at its core a real estate company. Similarly, you need to understand your business (for many reasons, not just patent alignment). Failure to do so at this initial stage would hamstring the goal of alignment. Any success you realize would be accidental and illusory at best.
Knowing your business also requires that you know your business strategy (intended, unintended or emergent). In particular, know those parts of your business that form the basis of a potential sustained competitive advantage. (While you’re at it, look at your competitors. What are they doing or offering that you apparently cannot?)
"A firm and fundamental understanding of your business is necessary prerequisite, but it doesn’t end there."
A firm and fundamental understanding of your business is necessary prerequisite, but it doesn’t end there. It is the first step in an iterative process – any strategy around patents must be developed (and subsequently re-developed) in light of your business. It’s not an add-on. How does tossing patents (or other forms of intellectual property) into the mix change things? A better question to ask might be “How does viewing your business through the lens of intellectual property alter your perception of your business?”
Does it change a potential sustained competitive advantage into a realized (or realizable) sustained competitive advantage? Does it highlight gaps in your organizational structure, or present a previously unforeseen opportunity? Additionally, does it change what you perceived to be a competitor’s sustained competitive advantage into something less sustainable?
You might not be able to answer these questions immediately or on your own, which brings me to a necessary second step: you know your business, now tell your patent counsel – communication fosters alignment.