Introduction to TRL Levels

Technology Readiness Levels (TRL) are a method of estimating the maturity of technologies during the acquisition phase of a program. The scale ranges from 1 to 9, where TRL 1 represents basic principles observed and TRL 9 signifies a technology fully deployed and operational. Understanding where a technology sits on this scale can help innovators and startups decide on the appropriate intellectual property (IP) actions, particularly regarding patents.

TRL 1-3: Ideation and Concept Development

At the earliest stages of technology development (TRL 1-3), the focus is on basic research, initial concept formation, and experimental proof of concept. During these stages, it is crucial to conduct a patent novelty search. This search helps identify the closest prior art and assess the patentability of the invention. If the invention lacks novelty, don’t be discouraged; consider pivoting or modifying the idea based on the insights gained. Additionally, even if the invention is still in its conceptual phase without a clear solution, leveraging patent data can provide hints for technical problem-solving. You may also want to consider filing a provisional patent application where this is permitted, such as in the US.

During these early stages, it’s also important to use non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) when discussing your ideas with potential collaborators, partners, or investors to protect your intellectual property. It is important to note that if your invention becomes publicly available, even by your own actions, before filing a patent application, it can no longer be protected by a patent. At these stages, startups should also consider registering trademarks and securing domain names to establish their brand presence.

TRL 4-6: Proof of Concept and Prototype Development

As the technology progresses to TRL 4-6, the development moves towards proof of concept (PoC) and initial prototype creation. This is the critical time to file the first patent application if not already done in earlier stages. Delaying patent filings can be risky as third-party patents filed during this period can block your progress. Filing a patent application as early as possible also eliminates the risk of information leaks or inadvertent public disclosure.

It is also essential to ensure that your technology does not infringe on existing patents. Working with an experienced patent attorney can help conduct a freedom-to-operate (FTO) analysis to identify and navigate potential patent infringements. If there is a risk of infringement, options like designing around the existing patents and/or narrowing the scope of the conflicting patent can be explored.

Moreover, if your invention includes aesthetic aspects, consider filing for design protection to safeguard its visual features.

You should also start to think of developing a clear commercialization strategy, including how IP will be leveraged in the market (e.g., licensing, strategic partnerships, or direct sales).

TRL 7-9: System Prototyping to Full Deployment

At TRL 7-9, the technology undergoes system prototyping, demonstration, and is ultimately deployed in its operational environment. Given the evolution of the invention, it is prudent to conduct further patent searches to identify additional patentable features. Filing additional patent applications or utility models can protect these new aspects, ensuring comprehensive IP coverage. You should also consider filing further patent applications to cover not only improvements, but also alternative embodiments or new areas of application to create a robust patent portfolio. This strategy significantly increases the value of your technology and your business.

Additionally, regardless of the TRL stage, it is crucial to consider international patent protection within one year of the first patent filing. Missing the priority period can result in losing the opportunity to secure global IP rights. You should also discuss with your patent attorney the possibility of combining your previous patent applications into a single patent application when filing an international patent application as the this will reduce patent costs and streamline procedures. Updating the FTO analysis to reflect new patents and further developments is also essential to mitigate infringement risks.


Navigating the patent landscape effectively across different TRL stages is vital for startups to protect their innovations and avoid potential legal pitfalls. By aligning IP actions with the maturity level of their technology, startups can build a strong IP portfolio that enhances their market position and commercial success.

I hope I have provided useful information. I wish success to everyone on this challenging journey from invention to commercialization.

About the author:

After having studied Electronics Engineering in Turkey, Erdem became a Turkish and European patent attorney in 2001 and a Turkish trademark attorney in 2005. Erdem is the founder of Erdem Kaya Patent, one of the respected IP firms of Turkey, with a team of +50 IP professionals. Throughout his professional life, he and his team have provided a wide range of IP consultancy services to many companies and universities as well as hundreds of startups and provided IP trainings to thousands of people. Erdem also acted as the president of a National Patent Union called UPB for 2 terms, where he carried out projects aimed at increasing IP awareness of the society and expertness level of IP professionals in Turkey. He is also among the partners of Sistem Global Consulting, Inc., which provides services as regards to tax & audit, compliance management and access to incentives/supports with its team of +450 people. Finally, Mr. Kaya is a licensed angel investor and active member of many IP organizations such as EPI, LES, AIPPI, GRUR and INTA.

Erdem Kaya
Turkish and European Patent Attorney
Electronics Engineer