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, August 31, 2010

August 2010

A patent can be a marvelous tool that helps you build and tap the market value of your invention.  Or it can be a useless burden that drains your time and money.  As with a hammer, you can hit the nail on the head or you can just injure yourself.  Patent attorney Elizabeth Shuster helped us understand what kind of tool a patent is by treating us to an overview of patents – what they are for, what kinds there are, what they are made of, how they are made, and how to use them.

Uses of a Patent
A patent gives you the right to prevent others from benefiting from your invention without permission.  That right to be negative can help you carve out a place in the market for the invention, persuade a business to license the invention, persuade potential customers to buy products that exemplify the invention, gain a reputation as an inventor and as a leader in your field, or stimulate growth of an industry.  But even though you have a patent, you might not be allowed to benefit from your own invention.  For example, if someone else recently patented a chair and you improved it by adding rockers, you might need to reach an agreement with the other patent owner before you could sell your patented rocking chair.

Kinds of Patents
Most kinds of useful inventions can be patented.  A utility patent for a machine, item, composition (such as an alloy, chemical, or food), or method of doing something lasts 20 years from the day you first apply for the patent.  The patent office may take about 3 years to approve a patent application, leaving an effective patent term of about 17 years.  The same holds true for a plant patent for an asexually reproduced plant.  However, a design patent for an ornamental design lasts 14 years from the patent’s issue date.

Ingredients of a Patent
A patent is a combination of things – a useful idea (an invention) that is new and nontrivial; a public definition and description of that idea; and a promise by the government to use its power for a limited time to protect the defined idea from intrusion.

Your idea is useful if using a man-made physical form of the idea benefits someone.  You can show that your invention works by actually using a physical form of the invention to produce an intended beneficial result.  Or, because patents are granted only for useful inventions, you can imply that the invention works by filing a patent application.

Your invention is new if you are the first inventor to think of it and are diligent - in showing or implying that the invention works and in filing a patent application.  But no U.S. patent for you if you publicly publish about, advertize, use, or sell products that exemplify your invention more than one year before you apply for a patent.  And no foreign patent for you if the public learns of your invention one day before you apply for a patent.

Your invention is nontrivial if, on your invention date, it would surprise (at least a little) someone of ordinary skill in your field of technology.  The government grants patents to promote progress (U.S. Constitution Article I, section 8, clause 8), not to keep a hamster running in place on a wheel.  Combining known parts in known ways to get an expected result is probably trivial.

How to Make a Patent
     Patentability Search
You may start the patent application process by hiring someone to look for inventions similar or identical to your own.  If some other genius invented your invention before you did, there is probably no reason for you to spend your money on preparing a patent application and on filing fees.  If the search suggests that you may be the first inventor, it will help you to prepare a patent application that more easily persuades the patent office that your invention deserves the broadest possible protection.

     Application and Fees
The associated or next step is to hire someone to prepare and submit a patent application along with your filing feesThe application describes the invention well enough for someone of ordinary skill in that technology to make and use your invention.  The application also legally defines your invention and determines what protection may be available for it.  An application for a utility or plant patent (but not for a design patent) may be provisional.  A provisional application is like a dinner reservation; it holds your place in line for one year while you decide whether to file a more expensive nonprovisional application which may lead to a patent.  During that year, you might test market or improve your invention, or save enough money to pay for a nonprovisional application (which can cost $8,000 or more).

An examiner at the patent office reviews your application and approves, rejects, or asks you to modify it.  You can argue with the examiner about these preliminary decisions before the final decision to approve or reject your application.  A telephone interview is an excellent way to help you and the examiner understand each other.  You must be truthful and tell the examiner anything you know that might affect the final decision.  You may appeal a decision you don’t like, at the patent office or in court.

     More Fees
If the examiner approves your application, you pay a fee for issue of the patent.  And if you decide to keep your patent for more than 3 ½ years, you pay even more fees.

How to Use a Patent
All of those fees and expenses add up – a patent is an expensive tool.  So use your patent skillfully.
     Business Strategy
          Goals          Understand how your patented invention will help you achieve your business goals.
               Does your invention have significant market value?  Do some market research to find out.  If few people will buy products that exemplify your invention, a patent might not be useful to you. 

               Do you want to sell your patent to another business and be done with it?  Or invest in another business (usually in exchange for royalties on products sold) by licensing your patent to it?  Businesses interested in your invention might be willing to pay for the costs of getting a patent.
               Will you start a new business based only on this invention?  A patent can help you gain investors and increase the credibility of your marketing.
               Are you adding a new product to your existing business?  A patent can help you prevent others from copying the product.
               Do you want a reputation as an innovator?  A patent lets the world know that you solve problems.

          Ownership of Inventions
If you own a business, consider having your employees sign an employment agreement that specifies the ownership of inventions conceived as part of the company’s operations.  That lets everyone know what to expect so there are no hard feelings later.

          Tax Benefits
Indiana gives tax breaks to a small business for income derived from a patent.

Mark products (not just their packaging or literature) you sell that exemplify your invention with:

     Patent Pending, while your patent application is pending before the patent office;
     Patent plus your patent number (e.g., U.S. Patent No. 1,234,567), while your patent is in force.  Remove this marking when your patent expires.

If you don’t mark your products properly, you forfeit any money you might recover from infringement that occurs before you notify an infringer of infringement.

If you mark your products without justification and with intent to deceive the public, you can be fined up to $500 per marked item.  A patent statute (35 U.S.C. 292) supported by a recent court case (Forest Group v Bon Tool Company, 2009) gives half the money to a bounty hunter who sues you because of your error and gives half the money to the government.

One way to enforce your patent is to give others permission to benefit from your invention, usually in exchange for something (like royalties) you want from them.  You may grant an exclusive license to one company, or grant nonexclusive licenses to several companies.

Another way to enforce your patent is to deny unauthorized access to your invention by notifying and, if necessary, suing infringers to prevent them from benefiting from your invention.  This method can be expensive and time-consuming, but you may be able to recover revenue lost because of infringement, as well as attorney fees and court costs.

Thank you Ms. Shuster for sharing your patent expertise 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

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