It was seen that the works of founders of States, law-givers, tyrant-destroyers, and heroes cover
but narrow spaces and endure but for a time; while the work of the inventor, though of less pomp,
is felt everywhere and lasts forever.          - Francis Bacon Preface to a Treatise on Interpreting Nature

The Design of Everyday Things

Every inventor should take this free online course. Learn the basics of design and start observing and applying design principles.

How to Design Breakthrough Inventions

A CBS interview of IDEO founder David Kelley

How to Build a StartUp

In this free online course, learn the key tools and steps for building a successful startup (or at least reducing the risk of failure).

Monday, June 10, 2019

June 2019

Marketing a new invention is speculative.   There is no guarantee that you will recover or profit from your investment.   To help inventors minimize their risks, the European Patent Office offers this general advice on avoiding seven marketing mistakes.

  1. The invention is more complex than the problem merits.  A needlessly complex invention drives up production costs and confuses customers.
  2. The invention is not kept secret until the date of filing.  Publicly disclosing your invention before you file a patent application prevents you from getting a patent from most countries other than the United States.
  3. The invention isn’t new.  Patents are issued only for new inventions.  Do a patent search before you invest in marketing.
  4. The inventor hasn't fully considered the problem.  No one wants to buy an invention that doesn’ work.
  5. No one wants it.  Do some customer research before you manufacture or try to license your invention.  Just because you like your invention doesn’t mean anyone else will.  Even if people need your product, you may need to teach them why they need it.
  6. An invention is safer if it's kept secret.  If you can’t keep your invention as a trade secret (eg, if your product can be reverse-engineered), a patent offers the strongest protection against knockoffs.
  7. The inventor has an unrealistic idea of the value of his invention.  Again, do some customer research before manufacturing or licensing.  You can’t afford to make a product for $3 per unit if customers will pay only $1 per unit.

One invention development company offers a different list of mistakes.

  1. Using an invention promotion or development company.  If you hire such a company to market your invention, statistically, your chance of profiting from your invention is usually less than 1%; the company’s chance of profiting from your invention is 100%.
  2. Getting a bad patent search.  Knowing your competition will help you know what to patent and to sell.
  3. Trying to license your invention prematurely.  Showing potential licensees a working example of the specific product you want to market moves the invention from imagination to reality.  Much more persuasive.
  4. Ordering units too early.  You don’t need more than 1 unit (the prototype) to license or crowdfund your invention.  If you want to make and sell products, make sure you know exactly what you want to sell before making several units.
  5. Getting expensive services before proof of principle.  Developing the simplest form of your invention can help you learn what its essential parts and design are.  Unless and until you have something that works, money spent on patents, customer research, and seeking investors might be wasted.
  6. Getting a bad patent from a patent attorney.  Patent claims must be as broad as possible to protect your true market share.
  7. Not mastering the art of invention development.  Learn as much about invention development as you can because you alone are responsible for successfully marketing your invention.  If you decide to pay a company to develop your invention, the Better Business Bureau suggests that you document the company’s record of how many of its clients made money on their inventions.  Be cautious if the company will not identify the inventions, manufacturers, or licensing corporations with which it has had success.  Check customer references provided by the company.  Be wary if the company evaluates your invention without determining its true marketability, technical feasibility, or cost of production.

Many thanks to Matt Thie for leading this discussion!

Sunday, March 31, 2019

March 2019

Charles Meyer (partner, Woodard, Emhardt, Henry, Reeves & Wagner LLP) gave us a very interesting and witty review of intellectual property.  For more information than this brief summary provides, talk with someone who was there.

Take-home message: Intellectual property protects your identity and your market share.

The most popular forms of intellectual property are copyrights, patents, and trademarks.  A trademark brands your products with your identity.  A patent prevents others from benefiting from your invention (a product or process, an ornamental design for a manufactured product, or a plant).  A copyright prevents others from copying your particular tangible expression of an idea (not the idea itself).

A trademark (for goods), service mark (for services), or trade dress (trademark for the image and overall appearance of goods) identifies you as the origin of a good or service.  It lets consumers know what quality or consistency to expect when they buy from you.  A mark can be anything that is sensate and nonfunctional: a sight (word, design, packaging shape [eg, Coca Cola bottle]), sound (eg, NBC chimes), smell (eg, Play-Doh), touch (eg, Khvanchkara wine packaging), and taste (no examples yet).

Rights to a mark are acquired by use.  Registration of a mark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) records the rights and offers additional benefits: protection throughout the country (instead of just the area of immediate use), own the mark before actually using it, presumption in court proceedings that you own the mark, protection by U.S. Customs, and—best of all—a “no trespassing” sign that discourages lawsuits over who owns a mark.  Search the USPTO database for existing marks before choosing a mark.  The cost of a professional seach, depending on completeness, ranges from $100 to $1500.

The protective strength of marks varies.  The goal is to avoid confusing the public about which mark goes with which good or service.  Weaker marks are more likely to be challenged in court.  The strongest kind of mark, arbitrary or fanciful, has no relation to the good or service (eg, APPLE computer).  A little weaker is a suggestive mark, which requires some thinking to link the mark to the good or service (eg, GREYHOUND bus service).  Weaker still is a descriptive mark, which uses some trait of the good or service (eg, UPS brown color).  Weakest of all is a generic mark, which uses a common description of the good or service (eg, CAR).  One test of the strength of a trademark is to put a trademarked item in a bag, tell someone what the trademark is, and ask if the person can tell you what is in the bag.

To avoid loss of a mark, use it as an adjective, never as a verb (eg, don’t say you xeroxed something on a XEROX machine).  In writing about your mark, designate an unregistered mark with TM and a registered mark in all capital letters or with an R enclosed by a circle.

Copyrights protect authored works such as poetry, computer software, architecture, a novel, painting, movie, or song.  In the United States, copyrights automatically apply to an authored work the moment it is expressed in a tangible medium.  The owner has 6 exclusive rights: to reproduce the work, to derive works from the original, to distribute copies of the work or to transfer ownership of the work, to publicly perform the work, to publicly display the work, and to publicly perform a protected sound recording by digital audio transmission.

A copyright owner can sue for infringement to recover statutory damages and attorney fees only if the work is registered with the U.S. Copyright office.  Additional benefits of registration include a “no trespassing” sign and a presumption of ownership in court proceedings.

Copyright law is written for the plaintiff, not the defendant.  To protect yourself from infringing another’s copyrights, attribute works of others that you use.  If using a picture you find on the internet, read the fine print on whether and how you may use it.  Disclose any payment you receive for publicly endorsing a work.

A patent is all about building a better mouse trap.  It is granted by the USPTO for the U.S., by other regulatory agencies for other parts of the world.  It exludes others from benefiting from your invention for a set time, typically 17 years for a utility or plant patent and 15 years for a design patent.

There are 3 kinds of U.S. patents.
A utility patent protects useful, new, and nonobvious machines, manufactured items, processes, combinations of materials, or improvements of those.  Computer software can be patented under some conditions.

A design patent protects the nonfunctional ornamentation of a manufactured thing.  It is like a trade dress except that protection lasts only for a set time and there is a less stringent requirement that the ornamentation be nonfunctional.

A plant patent protects a new kind of plant that is designed or discovered.

A patent:
Is useful for:
Offense; the better the patent, the less competition your invention will have in the market; and

Defense; another patent owner may need to cross-license your patent before benefiting from his.

Says nothing about whether a patented product is a good idea, logically or functionally.

Varies in cost:
Simply filing an application for a design patent may cost $2500; for a utility patent may cost $12000.  The cost of prosecuting a utility patent can double that amount.

There are 2 kinds of utility patent applications.
A nonprovisional application and the prosecution it entails are needed to get a patent. They are expensive and time-consuming and the application must be filed within 1 year of publicly disclosing the invention (but see below).  If you also want a patent from another country, file this application before publicly disclosing the invention.

A provisional application lets you try before you buy.
It is like a dinner reservation: call now and show up within 1 year with a nonprovisional application that refers to the provisional application.

A provisional application gives you an extra year to file a nonprovisional application after publicly disclosing the invention.  The USPTO grants a patent to the first inventor to file a patent application for a particular invention, so filing provisional applications early and often can be helpful.  You can file a series of provisional applications as you incrementally develop your invention.  You can market your invention, look for investors, or try to sell embodiments of your invention after filing a provisional application.  If you like what you see, then roll your provisional applications into one nonprovisional application and file it within 1 year of filling the first provisional application.

A provisional application lasts 1 year and can be renewed but can not lead to a patent unless combined with a nonprovisional application.  It can be less expensive, less time-consuming, and less formal than a nonprovisional application.  But don’t be fooled—the patent office credits you only for what you disclose.  Words are important.  For example, stating that objects are joined by a fastener (which can be a nail, screw, or rivet) can provide more protection than stating that objects are joined by a nail.

After filing a provisional application, you may mark the unpatented products you sell as “patent pending”.  This “no trespassing” sign warns competitors that they risk having a warehouse full of worthless knockoffs if your patent issues.

If your patent issues, mark your products with either the patent number or with an internet url address that shows the patent number.  This lets you sue for financial damage due to any infringement that occurs before you notify an infringer to stop infringing your patent.  Remove those marks after your patent expires.

Nondisclosure agreements can help you seek business partners while protecting your unpatented invention.  In general, the customer is always right.  Someone who wants to buy or rent your patent is your customer and has no incentive to sign a nondisclosure agreement.  You are the customer of a manufacturer or vendor you may hire, so they do have an incentive to sign a nondisclosure agreement.  If you want, but can’t get, a nondisclosure agreement, you can still protect your invention by telling only enough about your invention to make it interesting and by clearly marking all documents you share as confidential.  But your best protection will always be to file a patent application before seeking partners.

Thank you for sharing your valuable time and expertise with us, Mr. Meyer!

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

February 2019

Dave Zedonis (president, Indiana Inventors Association; principal, Z*Tech; patentee) treated us to a discussion on how to successfully invent and innovate.

Inventing is in our genes.  It gave our ancestors the edge they needed to prosper in hostile environments and gives us hope today for a better tomorrow.  Almost everyone invents to some extent and for a variety of reasons.

If you invent to make money, solve an important, widespread, and widely known problem.  Working or playing in any technical field will acquaint you with such problems.  Chatting with or surveying experts and workers in technical fields (eg, at trade shows) can do the same.  Solving such problems avoids a barrier to entering the market—the need to educate potential customers on the benefits of your invention.

Stick with a problem that interests you.  Solving an important problem can easily take 3 or 4 years.  Developing a working prototype of your invention can help you learn more about the problem and your solution, can help you teach potential investors and clients about your invention, and can help you avoid those Wile E. Coyote moments that all inventors dread.

If you want to change the world, don’t think that discovery ends with your invention.  Now you need to discover how to fit your invention into the marketplace.  Because you and your invention are unique, finding a good place in the market for your invention is up to you.  Either learn what to do or pay others for what they know.  Stephen Key, through his company, InventRight, offers free education and paid coaching on what to do.  Steve Blank offers free education on how to start a small business.  Our blog lists additional resources.  In general, don’t rely on invention companies; most give you no return on your investment.

Make your invention interesting to make others (investors, partners, customers) part of your story.  Some innovators patent their inventions or prevent others from doing so, other innovators forego patents and only build public awareness of their inventions.  Some innovators sell their inventions or license their inventions in exchange for a royalty of 5% of wholesale, others start their own businesses to sell embodiments of their inventions.  Some must cross‑license their inventions to gain the right to make, use, and sell them.  As with most business, negotiation is a must.

To learn more, please join us at our monthly meetings and tap into Mr. Zedonis’ extensive knowledge and experience.

Thank you, Mr. Zedonis, for sharing your expertise and enthusiasm with us!

Thursday, December 27, 2018

December 2018

Kenton Brett (granted 15 U.S. patents, see bottom of this page) displayed one of his inventions for K-5 math education and shared insights he gained from his years of innovation.

Innovation takes a lot of time and money, always more than you expect.

You can make things happen by sticking with an inventive project.

If you think of a good idea, someone else will think of it too.  So get to the patent office and to the market first.

Get unbiased validation of your idea before you spend a lot of time and money on it.

You can sell just an idea, but rarely.

You can get compensated for infringement of your patent by a big company.  License or sell your invention to a mid-sized company that will actively seek compensation from the big company.

Get a recommendation from your potential customers.

Focus on your core idea to get a cash flow that can fund the rest of your ideas.

Thank you for sharing your experience with us, Mr. Brett!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

October 2018

Michael Stokes (CEO, Waveform Communications; author, The Waveform Model of Vowel Perception and Production) summarized his progress since 2012 in developing a method of using waveforms and spectrograms to identify vowels in human speech.

Mr. Stokes’ model is currently the best for describing how people recognize spoken vowels.  A distinct set of vowels characterizes each language.  For example, English has ten vowels, Spanish five.  Each vowel of a language has a characteristic sound that underlies all dialects and individual pronunciations.  That characteristic sound can be visualized as spectrograms of three sound wave frequencies.  Although unpatentable as is (patent applications 14/223304 and 13/241780), a computer program (Elbow) based on the model accurately predicts spoken vowels from observations of the spectrograms.  A second program (Cobweb), especially useful to athletes, uses speech patterns to diagnose concussions in real time.

The model can be used to rapidly improve speech.  Mr. Stokes analyzes spectrograms of someone whose speech has been impaired by a stroke or by postoperative delirium or who is learning English as a second language.  Then he coaches the person on how to change the way s/he moves lips, tongue, and jaw to pronounce vowels correctly.

This model might also contribute to cross-species communication.  Humpback whales speak with vowels.  Learning how to pronounce their language(s) might help people learn how to warn them of the danger of approaching ships.

Thank you, Mr. Stokes, for sharing your interesting model with us!

Friday, September 7, 2018

September 2018

I knew that a country without a patent office and good patent laws was just a crab, and couldn't travel any way but sideways or backways.
—Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

A patent helps to secure a place in the market for an invention.  That is why many inventors take time, make an effort, and pay a significant amount of money to patent their inventions.

Inventors often do not realize that grant of a U.S. patent is always conditional.  Like everyone else, patent examiners make mistakes.  The patent office (Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB)) or a federal court can decide at any time during the life of a patent that the patent should never have been granted.  The result is an invalidated patent that provides no benefit to the patent owner.

Truth is often hard to ascertain and reasonable individuals can disagree on what the truth is.  Does our current patent system provide enough certainty for individual inventors and investors to risk innovation?  The recent documentary film, Invalidated: The Shredding of the U.S. Patent System, says no.  The movie argues that the patent office acts with intentional bias against individual inventors and that the office rationalizes, rather than justifies, its final decisions.  The America Invents Act (2011) encourages patent infringement and has significantly weakened our patent system and Constitutional protection of private property.

One focus of this movie is Josh Malone.  He invented and obtained patents for a system and method for quickly filling water balloons (U.S. patents 9051066, 9242749, 9950817, 9527612, 9315282, 9682789, and 9533779).  A company, Telebrands, immediately marketed a product very similar to Mr. Malone’s.  A federal court told Telebrands to stop infringing Mr. Malone’s patents and awarded his partner company $12 M in damages.  PTAB said that the federal court was wrong because several of the claims in Mr. Malone’s first patent were indefinite and therefore invalid.  This year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) told PTAB that it was wrong because the claims were definite and asked PTAB to decide instead whether some of the claims were invalid because they may have been obvious to a person of ordinary skill in that technology.  (Remember, Mr. Malone and his partner companies are paying huge legal fees throughout all of this.)  Who knows what the final result will be.

Attempts are being made to rebalance our patent system, for example HR6557 and HR 6264.  Individual inventors would benefit from the proposed changes.

Many thanks to Dave Zedonis and Matt Thie for showing the movie to us!

Patent Drawings by Richard McVicker

Some inventions patented by our members:

Bob Brand
3,179,907 Tuning system for television receivers
3,219,933 Television tuner switching system
3,241,072 Tuning control system
3,538,466 Television tuner cast housing with integrally cast transmission lines
4,503,740 Optical cutting edge locator for a cutting apparatus
4,503,896 Dog system for veneer slicer
4,601,317 Veneer slicing system
5,511,598 Veneer-slicer with remotely controllable blade angle adjustment
5,562,137 Method and apparatus for retaining a flitch for cutting
5,590,700 Vacuum flitch table with self-cleaning vacuum valve
5,678,619 Method and apparatus for cutting veneer from a tapered flitch
5,680,887 Veneer slicer with timing belt
5,694,995 Method and apparatus for preparing a flitch for cutting
5,701,938 Method and apparatus for retaining a flitch for cutting
5,819,828 Method and apparatus for preparing a flitch for cutting
5,868,187 Method and apparatus for retaining a flitch for cutting
7,395,843 Method and apparatus for retaining a flitch for cutting
7,552,750 Method and apparatus for cutting veneer sheets from a flitch

Kenton Brett
6023685 Computer controlled event ticket auctioning system
6704713 Computer controlled event ticket auctioning system
6907405 Computer controlled priority right auctioning system
7647269 Computer-based right distribution system with reserve pricing
7698210 Computer-based right distribution system
7720746 Computer-based right distribution system with password protection
7747507 Computer controlled auction system
7769673 Computer-based right distribution system with request reallocation
7992631 System and method for seasonal energy storage
8073765 Computer-based right distribution system with password protection
8128407 Method and system for teaching math
8538856 Computer-based right distribution system
8732033 Computer-based right distribution system with temporal variation
9614733 Methods and systems for reducing burst usage of a networked computer system
9900220 Methods and systems for reducing burst usage of a networked computer system

James Dougherty
8622039 Rockerless desmodromic valve system
9488074 Rockerless desmodromic valve system
9366158 Unitary cam follower and valve preload spring for a desmodromic valve mechanism

Ron Jackson
4,886,110 HVAC zone control system
4,943,039 Adjustable clamp
4,987,409 Level sensor and alarm
5,132,669 Level sensor with alarm
5,381,989 Adjustable spring clamp
5,944,098 Zone control for HVAC system
6,145,752 Temperature monitoring and control system
6,322,443 Duct supported booster fan
D347,596 Audible security alarm
D376,747 Door security device

Jerry McQuinn
D689,343 Universal Nutcracker

Richard McVicker
3,261,937 Three position snap switch utilizing interference blade means
3,319,477 Timer Escapement
3,332,704 Manually propelled treadmill vehicle
4,625,616 Thumb pick
6,309,076 Light barrier, screen or reflector
D240,237 Sculpture or the like
D356,653 Yard light
8389839 Thumb pick

Bill Pangburn
5,943,831 Device for Hauling Objects

Matt Thie
4,940,162 Rolled coin dispenser
4,844,446 Multiple-compartment currency stacker-sorter
4,940,162 Rolled coin dispenser
7,298,280 Lighted fluid flow indication apparatus
7,617,826 Conserver
8146592 Method and apparatus for regulating fluid flow or conserving fluid flow
8230859 Method and apparatus for regulating fluid

Don Walls
D707090 Torque key lever
RE36209 Door lock apparatus

Dave Zedonis
5,637,926 Battery powered electronic assembly for wheel attachment

Patent Document of the Month

Get Involved