// Principal & CEO, Pasky IP Law LLC // Entrepreneurial intellectual property and business law firm with experience in all aspects of patents, intellectual property, litigation and startup law. // Founder of DevNetwork // Media & events company: DataWeek + API World Conference & Expo (San Francisco); DeveloperWeek Conference & Festival (San Francisco); MobileWeek (New York); HackSummit (San Francisco); DeveloperWeek L.A.; DeveloperWeek Seattle; and the Data 2.0 Summit.
The answer: do both. The first thing you need to know about patents is that the U.S. now has a first-inventor-to-file system after the American Invents Act (AIA) went into effect in 2013. I have to disagree with Dan above: for hardware inventions especially, a patent is an important part of the business plan. The first inventor who "races to the patent office" now is typically the winner. This means if you do not file for a patent on your invention, you can lose the rights to your invention much easier than before the AIA.
The next step is to think about how a patent fits into your business plan. A patent application is but a tool in your bag when starting up. A crowdsourcing campaign on a site like Indiegogo can validate the idea. But it also puts the idea out to the public and starts the 1-year clock ticking on when you can get a patent.
For hardware startups, however, if you're not thinking about a patent upfront -- you're likely leaving a massive amount of your product's value on the table.