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).

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

September 2008

Mr. James Hill (a patent attorney with the Chicago law firm Wildman Harrold) addressed two important questions many inventors ask - Is my invention patentable? Should I invest in a patent? The United States grants patents only for inventions that benefit our society. What is an invention? An invention is a means to a useful end. It is a machine, manufactured article, composition of matter, or method that has 3 aspects (SOR): structure, operation (function), and result. Deterministic relationships between those aspects integrate (combine) parts into a whole that is more than the sum of its individual parts. Parts of an invention work together to produce a useful result. A mere aggregate however is just the sum of its parts - an assembly of structures or method steps that do not cooperate to produce a useful result, something a tornado might put together (like a straw through a telephone pole). An aggregate is not patentable because it is not more useful than its independent (old) parts. An invention benefits our society only if it is different from all other inventions known to our society.
  • An invention is likely patentable if at least one of its SOR aspects differs from known inventions: (new Structure, old Operation, old Result), (old S, new O, old R), (old S, old O, new and conditional R), (new S, new O, old R), (new S, old O, new R), (old S, new O, new R), or (new S, new O, new R). For example, farmers once used a plow that produced furrows of uneven depth, because it had only one disk. A patentable invention improved that plow by merely adding a second disk. The two disks cooperated to plow furrows of uniform depth, greatly increasing crop yield.
  • The difference must be so big that a typical person of ordinary skill in the technology would not have thought of your invention on your invention date. You must be creative. Our society benefits both from a pioneering invention (a new kind of invention, like the first wheel, airplane, or television) and from an incremental invention (a varied state of a previous invention, like a better mouse trap). But our society already inherently knows an invention that is obvious to a typical person of ordinary skill in the technology, even if no one has explicitly described or built that particular invention. The Supreme Court addresses this patentability requirement of nonobviousness in cases like Graham v. John Deere Co. or KSR International Co. v. Teleflex Inc. et al in order to protect our society. The U.S. grants patents only for inventions that add to, not subtract from, what society already knows.
Getting and maintaining a patent costs a significant amount of money. Should an individual inventor with average finances bet the farm on an unproven invention? No. It may be a good idea to file a relatively inexpensive provisional patent application if you think your invention looks good on paper. But before you invest a lot of time and money in a nonprovisional patent application:
  • build a prototype of your invention to make sure your invention works
  • test market your invention to learn whether projected sales will be high enough to satisfy you
  • find out whether excluding a competitor from your market will financially benefit you
  • or, persuade a person or company to buy or license your invention and to pay the patenting costs.
Thank you Mr. Hill for making the long drive from Chicago to share your helpful insights with 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

Rick Hanson
6,240,579 Unitary pedal control of brake and fifth wheel deployment via side and end articulation with additional unitary pedal control of height of patient support
6,253,397 Deployable siderails for a wheeled carriage
6,256,812 Wheeled carriage having auxiliary wheel spaced from center of gravity of wheeled base and cam apparatus controlling deployment of auxiliary wheel and deployable side rails for the wheeled carriage
6,264,006 Brake for castered wheels
6,507,964 Surgical table
D474,446 Sterilizable battery component

Bob Humbert
4,281,368 Keyhole illuminating apparatus

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

Al Robbins

3,882,960 Ride quality control for surface effects craft
3,946,689 Air dynamo pressure regulation and modulation device for surface effect ships and air cushion vehicles
6,588,702 Lighter-than-air device having a flexible usable surface

Matt Thie
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

Richard Tucker
5,833,751 Powder coating booth having smooth internal surfaces
6,840,367 Material handling and manufacturing system and method
6,976,835 Manufacturing system and process
7,018,579 Manufacturing system and process

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

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