Archive for November, 2007

Patent Trolls Eat Microsoft’s Dinner

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

A ruling was just confirmed that orders Microsoft to pay well over $140 million dollars for the violation of a patent owned by Z4 Technologies. The patent, which may seem a little general, essentially covers asking a user for two passwords on Microsoft’s software.

Microsoft had used the technology to curtail piracy, however, I’m doubtful that this patent has offered them any true economic benefits. You can read more about the ruling at Mashable.com where Mark Hopkins wrote an interesting piece here.

The lawsuit was filed and won in Texas which is considered a patent troll friendly court.

Mark Hopkins goes on to discuss that it is even questionable as to whether or not the patent should have been issued. The one thing that is clear is that if the patent system is to be improved, it has to happen at the point of approving a patent. If the patent system was reformed then we would not have overly broad patents which individuals would have incentive to exploit.

However, it is important to note the substantial benefit that patents offer the U.S. economy in terms of economic incentive. If we had no intellectual property protection there would be less incentive to take risks both in terms of time and financially to innovate and better the economy.

Wikipedia has an excellent article(here) on what a patent troll is and how they effect the patent system. Below is an excerpt;

Patent troll

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Patent troll is a pejorative term used for a person or company that enforces its patents against one or more alleged infringers in a manner considered unduly aggressive or opportunistic.

Over the past seven to ten years, Microsoft has been on both sides of numerous patent law suits with settlements totaling billions of dollars including creative patent pacts with software companies.

What’s interesting regarding this particular patent is that it was a functionality of a large piece of software whose added use added little value nor did it cost consumers extra capital to have integrated (aside from possible development costs carried over which is negligible). So, essentially what Microsoft paid for was that they were using an infringed patent to further protect their software from being pirated. Isn’t that ironic?

Eric Corl is the Founder and CEO of Idea Buyer, a marketplace for new technology and products that allows inventors to showcase their intellectual property to consumer product companies, entrepreneurs, retailers, and manufacturers at www.IdeaBuyer.com. You can email him at EricCorl@IdeaBuyer.com.

Commercializing New Ideas

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

Hollywood and popular literature tend to glorify the selfless inventor who innovates out of benevolence for mankind, with no care for personal gain. However, without the ability to commercialize new ideas, many of the world’s most cherished inventions might not have come to pass. Silicon Valley venture capitalist Paul Graham concurs in his essay “How to Make Wealth.”

“Developing new technology is a pain in the ass. It is, as Edison said, one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. Without the incentive of wealth, no one wants to do it. Engineers will work on sexy projects like fighter planes and moon rockets for ordinary salaries, but more mundane technologies like light bulbs or semiconductors have to be developed by entrepreneurs.”

That is the first thing any inventor must realize: there is no guilt or shame in wanting to profit from your idea. That being said, how do you go about doing it? As far as we can tell, there are two main ways of commercializing new ideas.

1) Bringing them to market yourself, or

2) Selling/licensing them to others

This article will offer tips and guidance on how to make either strategy work for you. The first way, as mentioned, is to nurture your idea to maturity and bring it into the market yourself. The advantage of this strategy is that you control more of the process. If your sole hope is finding a buyer for your idea, you are more or less at the mercy of their whims. What if your idea is sound, but the company you want to sell to just wont bite?

On the other hand, bringing it to market yourself lets you use intelligence and skill to increase your odds. So let’s start there.

Bring Your Idea to Market Yourself

The first step in bringing an idea to market is really firming it up in your own mind. Have you determined who your target market is? How will you reach them? Do you know what it truly costs to build your product? Do you even know how to concretely build your product, starting from nothing but raw materials? Our article “5 Steps to Patent Ideas” gives you a checklist for answering these questions.

Once it is created, you can roll out your idea in the manner you see fit. Want to sell it online? Want to sell it in retail stores? Want to do both? With a finished, tangible, honest-to-God product to sell, you have the ability to start making these things happen for yourself. Most of the popular retail outlets have buyers who you can talk to about getting your products sold. Selling online is simply a matter of setting up a website and publicizing what you have to offer. By this point you have firmed up your business plan and are intimately aware of what it takes to produce and sell your invention.

Again, the key benefit of this approach is that you are in the driver’s seat for important decisions. Another option that offers less control but also less stress is selling or licensing your idea to others.

Selling/Licensing Your Idea to Others

The chief benefit of selling or licensing your idea is that not everything is riding on you. Some people are not cut out for the task of inventing, creating, marketing and selling a product themselves or simply do not have the desire to spend so much time and effort doing so. It is hard, long, diligent work that you simply won’t do if your heart isn’t 100% in it. Therefore, selling or licensing your idea to others can be an attractive option.

However, be warned that this approach is often made to seem far sexier and easier than it is. While many people over estimate the effort it takes to get in front of the right companies, they also underestimate the amount of follow-up it will require. The process does not happen overnight and will take time to see through to a successful licensing or sale agreement. The farther along you are with a business plan, presentation, and materials the smoother the process will go.

If you are serious about your idea, take the time to package your invention for a successful presentation. Having a business plan, pictures, drawings, and your USPTO information on hand will accelerate your path to a successful sale or licensing agreement after you get in front of the right companies. This gives you the protection and leverage you need to approach someone about selling your idea.

In closing, these are the two main ways of commercializing new ideas. You should give some thought to which approach reflects your strengths and weaknesses as an inventor and pursue the course that feels best.

Eric Corl is the Founder and CEO of Idea Buyer, a marketplace for new technology and products that allows inventors to showcase their intellectual property to consumer product companies, entrepreneurs, retailers, and manufacturers at www.IdeaBuyer.com. You can email him at EricCorl@IdeaBuyer.com.

Information on Patents

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

There are many misconceptions about what a patent is and is not. Many believe that patents can “protect an idea” in the sense of preventing people from acting on a concept you thought of. Others believe that mailing yourself notes and drawings is a “poor man’s patent” that provides sufficient protection. In fact, patents are only granted to inventions, and the only way to achieve patent status is to apply for one and have it approved by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

In the US, a patent is a set of exclusive rights granted to an inventor by the government or a set period of time. In exchange for these rights, and to assist in their being upheld, the inventor discloses the relevant details of his invention to the Patent and Trademark office.

The two main parts of a patent are the specifications and the claims. A specification is where you describe the inner workings of your invention in gross detail. For example, the creator of a new, lighter and more puncture-resistant bicycle tire might disclose that his tire employs a revolutionary new rubber alloy that is 50% more durable than anything currently on the market. He might further elaborate that the spokes of the tire are the result of a completely unique ergonomic design that the inventor and only the inventor knows, and that this design is what makes the tires lightweight. If the inventor receives his patent, this is what will be protected.

Claims are the part of the patent that explains precisely what this invention does, and is capable of doing. Claims are where you define the invention and what it is from a customer’s standpoint. So for example, you would state something like “Bicycle tire employing X proprietary rubber alloy for and Y spoke design to achieve maximum durability and lightness.” This illustrates, concretely, what your patented invention is.

To get a patent, inventors must also typically include a drawing or prototype of their invention. Many novices assume that patents protect mere ideas. That is, you can think of something, write down your idea in a patent application and own sole rights to it. In fact, this is not the case. To protect and foster innovation, the Patent and Trademark Office will only grant patents to those who create something based on an idea.

Contrary to popular belief, a patent is not a right to use the invention in question. Rather, what a patent does is give an inventor the right to exclude others from making, using, or selling the patented invention for however long the patent lasts. In the US, this is generally 20 years from the date of the patent being filed.

When and if it becomes necessary to enforce a patent, this can generally only be done through civil lawsuits. In most cases, the patent holder will seek monetary compensation for any past infringements. In addition to any damages, he will also seek an injunction. This is a court order prohibiting the infringer from infringing on the patent at any point in the future. It is the court’s way of saying, “We know what you did, and it needs to stop.”

To prove that a patent was infringed upon, the patent holder must prove that the infringer practices all of the requirements set forth in at least on of the patent’s claims. Recall that a patent’s claims are literally the patent. They set forth exactly what it is that this invention does. So if someone stole your spoke design and bribed your scientist into spilling your rubber alloy formula, you will most likely be successful in getting an injunction against that person. Your patent will be recognized and upheld by the courts.

It is also worth putting a naïve patent myth to rest. Many believe it is possible to bypass the lengthy patent application process and high fees by simply mailing yourself an envelope with lots of sketches and idea notes in it. By sending it via federally certified mail, this supposedly “proves” that you were the first to conceive of an idea at a certain time. While this might be useful under certain circumstances, it alone will not provide you with the protection a patent does. Courts will not recognize this as sufficient evidence that you have rights to an idea.

In short, the best advice for those seeking patent protection is to spend the money and consult a patent attorney. These are people who have spent years studying the ins and outs of patents and patent law. If you are thinking of staking your livelihood on a patent idea, these are the people whose advice you want to seek.

5 Steps to Evaluating a Patent Idea

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

Patent Idea Evaluation

There’s nothing like the enthusiasm one feels during a proverbial “I’ve got it!” moment. However, it helps to have basic criteria for defining whether your idea is truly worth patenting or even patentable. Here are five steps you should follow in coming up with patent ideas.

Determine how well it will work.

How well will your idea work in practice? Will it work well enough to replace what people in this field already use? One easy way to determine this is to actively work in the field you envision your product being used for. This will give you a first hand glimpse into the current reality of what’s out there and let you tangibly see how your creation would improve it. If that’s not possible, find someone you trust in that field and bounce your idea off of them for feedback.

Who wants it?

There’s nothing worse than wasting weeks, months, or even years theorizing about a creation that’s “gonna be soooo great!” only to discover that no specific segment of customers truly wants it. To avoid this nightmare scenario, tell others about your idea. Ask them if and in what way it would truly improve their lives. The trick here is asking people who don’t know you very well. They are more likely to be honest instead of preoccupied with not hurting your feelings.

How can it be made?

Another common pitfall is glossing over the messy particulars of how something will be made. In the euphoria of brainstorming, your mind is naturally drawn to the sexy aspects of invention, such as the huge market waiting to be capitalized or your pitch to investors. Instead, force yourself to focus on exactly what it will take to bring your patent idea to life. How can it be made? What materials are needed? What types of skills are necessary to put it all together? Having firm answers to these questions turns you from dreamer into doer.

How much will it cost?

If technical particulars are easy to glaze over, forecasts about costs are downright ignored until it is unavoidable. This is a mistake. Crunching the numbers of how much it will cost to create your patent idea is not only necessary for investors to take it seriously; it will also make the idea real in your mind. Once you know what it will take to make your idea, do some basic research. Where can the materials be purchased cheaply? Do you know anyone with the necessary skills who will work for a stake in the profits instead of up-front cash payments? An entrepreneur who can answer these questions will be taken seriously by everyone involved in the patenting process, from attorneys to the professionals in the industry you are trying to enter.

How are products like this usually sold?

Finally, you need to know how your product will reach paying customers. If your idea is for a new, thinner and more puncture resistant bicycle tire, for example, you need a list of the top bicycle manufacturers in the country. These are the people who could potentially license your patent and put your patent idea into practice. A possible next step would be gathering the names of the top bicycle retailers. These are the stores who would be selling the bicycles. This type of analysis forces you to trace the chain of people you’ll need to work with in order to succeed.

In short, these five steps will firm up your patent in your own mind and in the eyes of those who will be evaluating it. As the Patent and Trademark Office gets more stringent about which types of inventions are patent-worthy, the importance of pleasing them cannot be stressed enough. More important than that, however, is that you be able to convince investors and manufacturers that you have a worthwhile and profitable idea. This, ultimately, is what is going to determine your success or failure. Many inventors lose sight of these concerns in the creative rush they feel. While this is seductive, it will not aid in your goals of acquiring and marketing a patent.

Fortunately, this does not have to be your story. By following the simple steps in this article and the advice on this website, you can be confident that your patent idea stands a chance of succeeding in the marketplace.

How to Conduct a Patent Search Online

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

For an inventor, conducting a patent search is one of the most important steps in preparing to patent an invention. It is fundamental in determining the similarity of your idea to the ideas of past innovators and in ensuring you have a thoroughly researched and documented patent application. Luckily, there are a couple of online resources that make patent searching both convenient and easy.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) offers the most comprehensive and precise collection of past patents available for review online. These entries date back as early as 1790 and offer descriptions and, in many entries, images of the invention. This directory, however, requires a few searching techniques to accurately find information that you are looking for.

According to the experts at about.com, there are three different ways to search for a patent in the USPTO search database. The first and simplest way begins with a patent number search. Patent numbers can be found on various patented inventions, on its packaging, or in its instruction manual. In most cases this patent number will be in a standard number format with comma separators but, depending on the type of patent, may begin with letters.

In this search, all you must do is enter the number in the “query” field and press “search.” The results page will contain the patent entry for that number. Not only is this process extremely easy, but it is also the most thorough. A search conducted by patent number allows the oldest online searches in the USPTO database and is the only search that goes back further than 20 years.

A search by patent number usually works great, unless you don’t know the patent number of the invention. In that case, a search by inventor’s name might be a better option. If you know the first and last name of the inventor, this type of search is easy as long as you know how to format the query. The proper way is: in/lastname-firstname-$, where “$” means any middle name. If you know the middle name of the inventor, replace the “$” with that. The results for this type of search will list the inventions by any inventor with that name. On a side note, this method will not be as accurate for extremely common names.

The last and most general method of searching for patents on the USPTO database is by keyword. This method allows an inventor to easily use words that relate to their idea to find similar prior inventions. You must first begin with a thorough list of words that relate to the types of inventions you are looking for. Then, narrow down the list to one or two words that you feel best uniquely describe what you are looking for. Enter the first word into “field 1” and, if you have one, the second into “field 2.” Then, if you used more than one word, you must specify how you would like the search to relate those words by using “and,” “or,” or “andnot” from the dropdown list. You may also use keyword phrases by inserting quotation marks around a phrase. This may yield more precise results.

The results, however, will not be nearly as specific as the previous two types of patent searches. You will most likely have a long list of entries that will need to be picked through to find what you are truly looking for. If you are looking for a particular patent, try to stick to the other searches.

While these are the most traditional ways to conduct online patent searches, a new, more convenient method has become available through search giant Google. They have recently launched a website called Google Patent Search. According to Google, this search engine holds detailed information for around 7 million patents and also includes simple searches for patents older than 20 years, unlike those on the USPTO search page. All of the inventions are cataloged and hosted on Google webpages which allows for uniform entries and an easily searchable database. Also, all information is obtained from USPTO records to ensure accurate entries. For those who like more traditional USPTO information, the Google patent search entries actually have links to their corresponding USPTO entries.

The methods of searching on the Google site are extremely straightforward. The simple search on the Google Patent Search homepage is run like any Google site, allowing keyword entry and results listed by relevance. If you have more specific information such as patent number or inventor’s name, a specific search can be performed from the advanced search page. This search engine has made the patent search process extremely quick and simple.

Patent searches are extremely beneficial to an innovator’s goal of patenting an invention. The painstaking process, while sometimes a hassle, can be very important in determining whether or not an invention truly is a novel idea. Just stick with these resources and this overwhelming process will undoubtedly be made much simpler.

This article is provided for your personal use by http://www.IdeaBuyer.com. Idea Buyer is the online marketplace for intellectual property and gives inventors the opportunity to showcase their intellectual property to consumer product companies, entrepreneurs, manufacturers, and retailers who are looking for new products to bring to market.

Please do not redistribute or reproduce this article without written permission.

Documenting New Ideas

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

Documenting new ideas is not just good practice. It may be absolutely critical if you intend on getting a patent and then enforcing it. This is because patent laws in the United States are based on the “first to invent rule.” Clause 101 of US Code 35 states:

“Whoever invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent therefore..”

What this means for you the inventor is that you want a set of airtight documentation to prove your idea is yours. But how do you go about doing this? With all the misconceptions and speculation about what is legally acceptable proof, it helps to separate fact from fiction. Let’s begin by dispelling some popular idea documentation myths.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. “Hey man! Turns out we can skip all that paperwork and waiting and huge cost! My buddy told me all we gotta do is mail a bunch of notes and sketches to ourselves and if anyone tries to rip our idea, we just bring the mail to court!”

This is known as the “poor man’s patent” and it to put it bluntly, it isn’t. Eugene Quinn, patent attorney and founder of IPWatchdog.com, had this to say:

It is absolutely critical for everyone to understand that mailing your idea to yourself will do absolutely nothing to give you protection. All that mailing your work to yourself will prove is that you had it as of a certain date, and that is only assuming there is a postmark on the envelope (which does not always happen) and the envelope is not opened. It provides no rights whatsoever.

So if mailing yourself your work isn’t sufficient documentation, what is? The answer is something called a logbook. A logbook is essentially an inventor’s journal. It is where the inventor keeps track of his progress and dates each step. A logbook proves that you came up with your idea at a certain date and displayed due diligence in pursuing it. However, there are some definite standards you should adhere to when keeping a logbook. This will help ensure that your documentation looks legitimate to patent examiners.

That being said, here are some conventions you should follow when documenting your invention in a logbook.

1) You should start your logbook as soon as you think of an idea. Write down detailed records of key concepts, test results, and anything else having to do with the creation of your idea. This is the type of material that belongs in a logbook.

2) While there are pre-made logbooks for sale, you can easily make your own. Be sure to use a bound notebook, however, and not a loose-leaf. The reason is that bound notebooks make it hard to conceal the fact that pages were added or taken out.

3) Number each page consecutively. This establishes that the progress you made on your idea took place in a sequential order that anyone with common sense can observe. When one notebook is full, begin a new one and specify that this notebook is a continuation of the last one. There should be no visible gaps in your record keeping.

4) Each entry you write should be signed and dated by you and anyone else who participated in that step of the invention process. If at all possible, get a notary public to sign as well.

5) Give each entry a header with information about what is contained in it. For example, the date, subject, number of participants, witnesses, etc.

6) Include records of everything you do. When in doubt, assume that it is best to include it. Do not just include successful test results, for example. If you exclude negative findings or tests, the patent examiner may decide that you “cherry-picked” only the good stuff and reject your application.

7) Any and all other participants in the invention process need to have their roles disclosed. The importance of this convention cannot be stressed enough. If you omit an inventor’s name from an invention he helped create, it is considered fraud.

8) Any loose materials like drawings, photos, or sketches should be signed, dated, and cross-referenced to the notebook entry they pertain to. It is best to tape or staple this material to the notebook entries in question.

In closing, these are some good, common-sense conventions to follow when documenting new ideas. Adhering to them will give you a much greater chance of receiving and maintaining patent protection.

Information on Patents

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

There are many misconceptions about what a patent is and is not. Many believe that patents can “protect an idea” in the sense of preventing people from acting on a concept you thought of. Others believe that mailing yourself notes and drawings is a “poor man’s patent” that provides sufficient protection. In fact, patents are only granted to inventions, and the only way to achieve patent status is to apply for one and have it approved by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

In the US, a patent is a set of exclusive rights granted to an inventor by the government or a set period of time. In exchange for these rights, and to assist in their being upheld, the inventor discloses the relevant details of his invention to the Patent and Trademark office.

The two main parts of a patent are the specifications and the claims. A specification is where you describe the inner workings of your invention in gross detail. For example, the creator of a new, lighter and more puncture-resistant bicycle tire might disclose that his tire employs a revolutionary new rubber alloy that is 50% more durable than anything currently on the market. He might further elaborate that the spokes of the tire are the result of a completely unique ergonomic design that the inventor and only the inventor knows, and that this design is what makes the tires lightweight. If the inventor receives his patent, this is what will be protected.

Claims are the part of the patent that explains precisely what this invention does, and is capable of doing. Claims are where you define the invention and what it is from a customer’s standpoint. So for example, you would state something like “Bicycle tire employing X proprietary rubber alloy for and Y spoke design to achieve maximum durability and lightness.” This illustrates, concretely, what your patented invention is.

To get a patent, inventors must also typically include a drawing or prototype of their invention. Many novices assume that patents protect mere ideas. That is, you can think of something, write down your idea in a patent application and own sole rights to it. In fact, this is not the case. To protect and foster innovation, the Patent and Trademark Office will only grant patents to those who create something based on an idea.

Contrary to popular belief, a patent is not a right to use the invention in question. Rather, what a patent does is give an inventor the right to exclude others from making, using, or selling the patented invention for however long the patent lasts. In the US, this is generally 20 years from the date of the patent being filed.

When and if it becomes necessary to enforce a patent, this can generally only be done through civil lawsuits. In most cases, the patent holder will seek monetary compensation for any past infringements. In addition to any damages, he will also seek an injunction. This is a court order prohibiting the infringer from infringing on the patent at any point in the future. It is the court’s way of saying, “We know what you did, and it needs to stop.”

To prove that a patent was infringed upon, the patent holder must prove that the infringer practices all of the requirements set forth in at least on of the patent’s claims. Recall that a patent’s claims are literally the patent. They set forth exactly what it is that this invention does. So if someone stole your spoke design and bribed your scientist into spilling your rubber alloy formula, you will most likely be successful in getting an injunction against that person. Your patent will be recognized and upheld by the courts.

It is also worth putting a naïve patent myth to rest. Many believe it is possible to bypass the lengthy patent application process and high fees by simply mailing yourself an envelope with lots of sketches and idea notes in it. By sending it via federally certified mail, this supposedly “proves” that you were the first to conceive of an idea at a certain time. While this might be useful under certain circumstances, it alone will not provide you with the protection a patent does. Courts will not recognize this as sufficient evidence that you have rights to an idea.

In short, the best advice for those seeking patent protection is to spend the money and consult a patent attorney. These are people who have spent years studying the ins and outs of patents and patent law. If you are thinking of staking your livelihood on a patent idea, these are the people whose advice you want to seek.

Information About the Patent Office

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

The United States Patent and Trademark Office is the governmental agency in charge of granting patents to inventors. As USPTO.gov states,

For over 200 years, the basic role of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has remained the same: to promote the progress of science and the useful arts by securing for limited times to inventors the exclusive right to their respective discoveries (Article 1, Section 8 of the United States Constitution).

The major function of the patents office is to examine patent applications and determine whether or not the invention in question is worthy of a patent. They also examine trademark applications in the same way. Unlike many other government agencies, the patents office is self-funded, that is, supported solely by the fees it collects from inventors for patent and trademark applications.

The patents office has three essential responsibilities as an agency:

1) It administers the laws pertaining to patents and trademarks

2) It advises the Secretary of Commerce, the President, and his entire administration on the protection of patents, trademarks, and copyrights

3) It provides general advice to the public on the trade aspects of intellectual property.

In total, the United States Patent and Trademark Office employs 8,189 people. Most of them work in the patent office’s five-building headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia. Of that number, 4,883 employees are patent examiners. These are the people who physically evaluate your patent application for the various criterions and decide whether or not to grant a patent. Another 413 employees are trademark examination attorneys. These are people qualified to act in matters involving trademark law, and accordingly, they have the task of evaluating trademark applications.

There is one key difference between these two groups. Patent examiners are scientists or engineers, but they are not required to have law degrees and so not all of them do. Trademark examiners, on the other hand, are required to be licensed attorneys. Both groups of examiners work under a quota system that dictates how many patents and trademarks they are authorized to grant in a given timeframe.

The remaining employees are all support staff to one or both of these two groups.

The patents office grants literally thousands of patents to corporations and inventors every year. To date, over seven million patents have been issued and recognized by the agency.

With the advent of Internet technology and the World Wide Web, the patents office has begun accepting patent applications filed electronically. Inventors or their patent attorneys have been able to file patent applications as Adobe PDF documents since March of 2006. The process is relatively straightforward and can be accomplished at the following web URL. Filing fees are paid via credit card or a USPTO “deposit account”, which is explained in greater detail on the website.

The ability to search for existing patents via the USPTO website has also improved in recent years. The website provides free electronic copies of existing patents with using TIFF, a container format for storing images. However, several commercial services exist to provide patent documents in other, more convenient formats such as CPC and Adobe PDF.

It is also possible for inventors to file their own patent applications without the help of a patent lawyer. This is known as pro se patent filing, and is actually quite common as a means of saving thousands of dollars is legal fees. The general rule is that the less complex an invention is, the more sense it makes for the inventor to do some homework and attempt to file the application himself. If an invention is significantly complex, however, it is probably a better idea to seek the aid of a patent attorney.

While the patents office cannot recommend specific attorneys to you, they do post a list of registered attorneys. If you are new to inventing and unsure of where to find a good attorney, use this list as a starting point. Copy down the names of some attorneys in your area and investigate them further before deciding on one.

In closing, the United States Patent and Trademark Office is the agency you must deal with in your quest for patent protection. By educating yourself about the nature and expectations of this agency, you will be better prepared to get your patent approved.

How To File Patents

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

The way you file a patent is by filling out an application and submitting it to the United States Patent and Trademark Office for a fee. Of course, patent applications are not like job applications or credit card applications. This is where you explain your invention in gross detail and have it meticulously examined by people with scientific and/or legal training. Thusly, you want to ensure that your patent application is rock solid. No corners cut.

The first thing to be mindful of when filling out your patent application is making sure you use the right legalese. Most people know that lawyers speak differently about legal matters than the way they talk in passing, and this is crucial for your patent application. Accordingly, you cannot expect to “set aside a night and bang it out.” Your application’s chances of being approved hinge greatly on how well-written it is.

Here’s a good example the good folks at About.com offer to help weary inventors:

You might want to describe your invention with language like, “Part A is nailed to part B.” However, this is actually very weak from a legal perspective. Why, you ask? Well, how hard would it be for someone else to apply for essentially the same patent with wording like, “Part A is glued to Part B?” Not hard at all. In fact, it happens all the time.

Instead, you want to shoot for something like “attached” or “attached by various fasteners.” This type of language broadens the scope of your patent. It helps protect against knock-off artists who would capitalize on your invention by changing trivial words to appear unique.

Another daunting part of the patent filing process is that unlike most applications, the most complex parts have no pre-made spaces for you to fill in. Instead, you as the inventor will be staring at blank paper that you must fill yourself. What will you fill it with? Let’s ask Eugene K. Quinn, patent law professor and founder of IPWatchdog.com:

“…without some identifiable embodiment of the idea there can be no intellectual property protection.”

In this case “identifiable embodiment” often means a drawing. You or someone you know and trust will need to draw your invention and include the sketch with your application.

In general, applying for a patent without the help of an attorney is not recommended. The nuances and subtleties of the USPTO are enough to spend a lifetime studying, and that is precisely what patent attorneys do to ensure that applications they submit are airtight. However, if you do choose to go it alone, here is what you will need.

1) A written document that includes a specification and claims. A specification is where the inventor describes, illustrates, and/or discloses the inner workings of the invention in enough detail that someone experienced with the field could understand what it is. Claims are the part of the application where you specifically state what the invention is and is capable of doing. Claims, in the words of one attorney, literally “define the invention and what it is.” What you put in the claims is what patent law will protect.

2) A drawing of the invention. It is important that this drawing mirrors as closely as possible the actual way in which your invention will function and be used. Any discrepancies here can be used by competitors or litigators to try and invalidate your patent.

3) The filing fee. There is a fee when you apply, another fee when the patent is issued, and regular maintenance fees thereafter.

At a bare minimum, this is what your patent application must include. However, other steps can and should be taken to solidify it. One important consideration is proving that you were the first to conceptualize your idea. This is because United States patent law is based on the “first to invent” rule, whereby the first person to reduce an idea to a working prototype or clear description has rights to it.

So how can you prove that you were the first? The most surefire way is to keep a well-documented log of your records, including detailed test results and a sequentially ordered set of steps you took to reach your idea. Such material proves that your involvement with the idea began at a certain time and continues to the present day.

Be warned however that the alleged “poor man’s patent” of mailing yourself your idea does not work and will not stand up in any court. Instead, visit this URL on how to set up a good legally admissible log book.

In short, you need to be aware that preparing and filing a patent application is a serious, time-consuming process. You should attempt it only after a thorough consideration of all that will be required of you.

Famous Inventions

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

Over seven million patents have been issued in the United States alone, but some inventions in history stand out from all the rest. This article will explore some of the world’s most famous inventions and the people responsible for them.

We begin our journey into historic inventions at the beginning of the alphabet: with adhesives!

The first known use of adhesives dates all the way back to 4000BC. That’s when archeologists say clay pots were first used with primitive glue made out of tree sap. It is also a known fact that ancient Greeks used adhesives for carpentry using ingredients like egg whites, milk, cheese, and grains. Romans used beeswax for glue.

The first patent for glue, however, was issued in 1750 in Great Britain. That particular patent protected a glue mixture made from fish.

How about air conditioning? It has been around for so long that we can hardly imagine life without it, but AC is only about 90 years old. In 1921, Willis Haviland Carrier patented the centrifugal refrigeration machine. They called him “the father of cool”; Carrier’s refrigeration machine was the first practical way of cooling large spaces.

Most of us cannot picture going without the ballpoint pen in our daily lives. But until 1938, everyone did! That’s when a Hungarian journalist named Laszlo Biro invented the first ever ballpoint pen. Biro noticed that the ink used for newspapers dried very quickly, leaving the paper smudge-free. He thought to himself that a pen with the same ink would be very useful, but he had a problem: the thicker ink would not flow from a regular pen’s nib. Biro’s solution? He outfitted his pen with a ball bearing in the tip to facilitate the flow of ink.

Bar codes are used in just about every store imaginable. But until 1952, all ringing up of goods was done by hand, with registers or pencil and paper. That’s the way it was until Joseph Woodland and Bernard Silver invented the barcode method of automatic identification and data collection. Although today’s barcodes are mostly rectangular, the original design was a circle, often described as a bull’s eye symbol. It was made up of concentric circles layered one atop the other, each in a uniquely identifiable way.

The cash register is a universally recognized symbol of American capitalism and wealth. Until 1883, however, they simply did not exist. That’s when James Ritt and John Birch got a patent for inventing what they nicknamed the “incorruptible cashier.” It was the first known working, mechanical cash register in existence.

The people to make cash registers famous, however, were the folks at National Cash register Company. That was the name John H. Patterson gave to the operation after buying both the patent and the company from Ritty and Birch.

 

The world would sure be a lot less pleasant without deodorant, and it was not until 1888 that it was finally brought out to the masses. The original deodorant was created by an unknown genius from Philadelphia, and it was recognized as the first product made specifically to prevent odors. However, the late 1940’s is when deodorant truly took off. That was the year when Helen Barnett Diserens grafted this new deodorant concept onto technology from ballpoint pens to make rollable deodorant applicators.

As for spray deodorant, the first aerosol model was launched in 1965.

We’ll round out our tour through the valley of inventions with everybody’s favorite creation: firearms!

 The first known gun was called the “puckle gun.” It was invented by James Puckle of London, England in 1718. However, the puckle gun was a far cry from the advanced weaponry we know today. The puckle gun was so big that it had to be mounted on a tripod and had only one barrel. It did have a multishot revolving cylinder which allowed the weapon to fire nine shots per minute. If that doesn’t seem too impressive, consider that the standard soldier’s musket could be loaded and fired just three times in one minute. The puckle gun marked the beginning of a glorious period of innovation in firearms. Revolvers, rifles, and everything in between followed from this one early puckle gun. 

In closing, the inventors of today have an awful lot to measure up to. With so many amazing and life-changing inventions already on the books, they have their work cut out for them in trying to outdo the greats of the past!