Louis Foreman, the producer of the Emmy Award winning PBS television show Everyday Edisons and the publisher of Inventors Digest, announced in April 2011 that he was launching of a $25 million Innovation Fund. Phase 1 of the search for inventions for the Fund to invest in was completed in mid-June 2011. Phase 2 of the search for inventions and ideas has just begun and will run through Monday, September 12th, 2011. He tells me that the Fund is off to a great start and has received some very innovative technologies as part of the first wave.
It is also very important to explain with as much detail as possible, paying particular attention to unobvious or counter-intuitive steps, connections or limitations, paying particular attention to any preparations that may be necessary prior to beginning the making or using process. Perhaps you should try and describe your invention in words in a way that would convey meaning to someone who is blind. This is a tough task no doubt, but the goal of the written disclosure is to provide verbal description that is much like a step by step how to manual. If you are trying to describe your invention to someone who cannot see then you will invariably find creative and enlightening ways to verbally get your message across. This is the type of detail that should be in an application.
A representation relationship is just that, a relationship. Who you work with is an important decision and patent attorneys operate differently. At the end of the day what you should be looking for is someone who is competent and who you connect with on some level. In my opinion, when representation is most successful there is a good working relationship between the attorney and inventor, and that requires a certain comfort level and familiarity. Try and work with someone in a symbiotic way. No matter how good the inventor, the invention or the patent attorney, an “oil and water” characteristic to the relationship cannot result in the best work product or the most beneficial ultimate outcome.
But don’t quit your day job as you pursue a career in inventing! When I saw that in Key’s book (it appears early on) I knew the book was a winner. I can’t think of any better advice to provide, and it came with the familiar stories to make the lesson real. In our conversation Key said: “Like anything else you need to test the waters. You never want to put yourself in a situation where you are desperate. Inventing is something you can do while you are working.” So for goodness sake, have enough success under your belt that you have turned inventing into complete replacement income before ever making the decision to quit your day job.
Unless you are claiming a perpetual motion machine, which based on our current understanding of science is understood to be impossible, you do not need to have a working prototype in order to obtain a patent. In fact, the rules and regulations of the Patent Office do not require a working prototype except when you specifically claim a perpetual motion machine. Given that our scientific understanding is that perpetual motion machines cannot exist, and given that inventors frequently file patent applications claiming perpetual motion machines, the Patent Office does require a working prototype, which will be tested. So if you do not claim a perpetual motion machine the patent examiner will never ask you for a prototype. All you need to do is define the invention in writing, through the use of text and illustrations, so that someone of skill in the relevant technical field would be able to understand the scope of your invention, understand how to make and use the invention, and understand what, if any, preferences you have relative to what you are claiming as your invention.
Crowdfunding addresses the two biggest challenges many inventors have. “What is the market for my product?” and “How do I get initial funds to produce it?” Conventional sources of funds include yourself, “friends and family”, and angel investors. Crowdfunding adds a new source of funds, the initial consumers. Inventors get committed funds and guaranteed customers. Backers get to be the first to get an exciting new product. If the funds are raised, you know you have a market and you have the resources to produce the product. If the funds aren’t raised, you have valuable market feedback.
It doesn’t roll off the tongue quite like the famous Shakespearean line — “to be or not to be: that is the question” — the opening line of Hamlet’s soliloquy in Act 3, Scene 1, but the question that some inventors will ask themselves is whether they should seek out licensing opportunities or follow the path of manufacturing and selling. Truthfully, many inventors probably don’t ask this question and instead jump past this fundamental question and straight for the licensing revenue, but is that the best thing in the long run? Licensing takes a lot of work out of the monetization equation and minimizes risk, but foregoing manufacturing and pursuing licensing can significantly cut down on profit realized by the owner of the invention rights.
To help what might be the best ideas and inventions percolate to the top Foreman has created what he refers to as a “Patent Attorney Referral Program.” This program is designed to benefit patent attorneys and patent agents whose clients submit innovative ideas and concepts. This isn’t one of those unethical referral programs though, so no worries there. If a client of a patent attorney or patent agent is selected and accepts the offer of assistance from the Innovation Fund then the patent attorney or patent agent representing that inventor will be retained by the Innovation Fund to provide the legal services required to pursue patent rights.
What I refer to as “experimental language” either explicitly or implicitly suggests that further experimentation is or will be necessary in order to: (1) realize or perfect the invention; or (2) realize or perfect an intermediate or component. Resist the temptation to have your patent application read like a diary of thoughts and/or personal observations regarding future research and goals. This type of language is usually not found in a patent application because it suggests that your invention is not yet completed, which could be used as an admission that the invention is not enabled and/or that you have not satisfied the written description requirement.
Once you have done as much as you possibly can on your own you might want to consider hiring an engineering firm to provide additional information and input to put your invention over the top. The thing to remember is that if the person or firm you hire provides information that relates to the conception of the invention they will be considered a co-inventor. As a co-inventor they have rights to the patent. In order to get the help you don’t want to give up rights to your invention. You will want to have an agreement in place keeping ownership of the patent rights if you seek assistance from someone else, whether they are a professional or not. You should also have a confidentiality agreement in place, unless you are speaking with an attorney, in which case a confidentiality agreement is unnecessary. We have some free sample confidentiality agreements you can use as you see fit.
One of the problems created by true newbies, particularly those who have not done any reading or tried to at least bring themselves up to speed to some extent, is that they present in a way that makes established patent attorneys and law firms want to run and hide. Whether it is unrealistic expectations, wanting a confidentiality agreement signed because they want to be able to sue you if things go bad, or wanting representation on a contingency basis, these things scream PROBLEM to most patent attorneys, thereby foreclosing a possible representation relationship in many cases.
The trick with drafting a patent application is to describe anything that will work, no matter how crude, no matter how defective. You want to capture everything. This is because the only power of a patent is to prevent others from doing what is covered in the patent. If you are making money there will be others who want to do what you are doing. Your patent can prevent them from doing what you are doing, but a strong patent will also prevent would-be-competitors from doing anything that is close. You want to prevent would-be-competitors from directly competing and from competing with substitutes, even substitutes that are inferior.
There is a terrible injustice done by those non-attorney and/or non-agent services, and it amazes me that individuals are so ready to believe inventors and scientists who have a handful of patents and haven’t read many (if any) cases. You go to an experiences accountant for tax issues, when you feel sick you go to an experienced doctor, if your car breaks down you want an experienced mechanic, yet when you have an innovation that you dream could be worth many thousands, or millions, of dollars you go to an inventor who has little or no experience drafting a patent application? At which point exactly does that start to sound like a good idea? After your third martini at lunch?
The date of invention relates to your conception. This is true whether you are engaging in an interference proceeding seeking to obtain a claim instead of another who is also seeking the claim, or you are attempting to demonstrate that you can get behind a reference used by an examiner because you have an earlier date of invention. The hallmark of a first to invent system is that those who file second can obtain a patent under very strictly limited scenarios. A byproduct of a first to invent system is that if the examiner finds prior art you can “swear behind” the reference using a 131 affidavit to demonstrate that reference is not prior art for your invention. In both the interference context and the 131 affidavit context there needs to be proof of conception that will satisfy the patent laws.
The back bone, however, is made up of many smaller bones. For example, there are seven cervical vertebrae in the necks of all mammals, and these bones together make up a portion of the back bone. Therefore, a more complete description of the backbone would point out that the neck is a part of the backbone. An even more complete description might include saying cervical vertebrae 1 (i.e., C1, which is a part of the neck) is connected to cervical vertebrae 2 (i.e., C2) and so on. The point is that the more description you provide the better, but you absolutely must have at least the big picture overview of how everything fits together, and how to make and use the invention. Therefore, be sure that you have disclosed with as much detail as possible how all the pieces of your invention connect, work together, function and interrelate.