Patent Law Fun & Lessons: What Dilbert Teaches About Inventing
|Written by Gene Quinn
Patent Attorney & Founder of IPWatchdog, Inc.
Principal Lecturer, PLI Patent Bar Review Course Posted: March 3, 2010 @ 3:14 pm
Over the last week Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, has been out doing himself in a series of laugh out loud funny cartoons. I realize that as a patent attorney my sense of humor is, well… challenged, at least in the view of many who are not in the patent field. That being the case I figured I would share a few of these cartoons with an audience that I figured would be able to appreciate the humor. What is even better is that Dilbert cartoons can be embedded into a blog or website for free, so no copyright infringement was engaged in during the creation or publication of this post. Which is always nice!
As you can see from the first cartoon in the series, the creator of a project has left the company and his unfinished project is being passed on to the hapless Dilbert. Scott Adams, through Dilbert, teaches us not only that no one should ever trust Dilbert, but also about the importance of documenting your invention. I then take this opportunity to also opinion about the impending first to invent changes to US patent laws. What fun!
February 27, 2010
The Dilbert website allows you to create your own punchline to the comics, so I took the liberty of making this one a little more patent friendly, and hopefully patent funny, by changing the last frame to Dilbert saying: “A glowing box comprising a box that glows. Done. How was that for speed? Lets file a provisional.” See my altered version at Dilbert Mashup by PatentPundit. Right now there are only 3 votes and it is only getting 3.5 stars. Pretty pathetic given that I voted for myself, and since I find myself amusing I gave it 5 stars. Perhaps with some patent attorney and patent agent votes it will get higher marks!
In any event, at the time I wrote the altered final frame I had no idea where the story would go, or even if it would go more than just one strip, although it seemed like a fair bet. Then over the last few days the plot thickens with an invention gone horribly wrong, at least from Asok’s point of view.
March 1, 2010
March 2, 2010
March 3, 2010
I think the March 2nd strip is absolutely hilarious. I am not to keen on the March 3rd strip though. The first two, however, really tell a story that is so important to tell. Document your inventions!
The dangers of not documenting an invention probably won’t ever turn out quite as bad for you or others as this seems to have turned out for Asok. Nevertheless, this is a problem that I, and I suspect all other patent attorneys and agents, face on a routine basis. Overwhelmingly I work in the software and computer-implemented space, and documentation in this space is extremely sparse usually. Documenting what you are doing by inserting text into millions of lines of code is not exactly user friendly, and you sure don’t want to have to pay your patent attorney to read a million lines of code to figure out what is going on.
It seems that by and large the days where projects start out with flowcharts and schematic diagrams is gone, never mind a project maturing into a design document that will be the bible of the project and something that can be referred by to by those involved. This information, however, is essential if you are going to file a patent application. Sure, it can be re-created, but when documentation is lacking the entire project becomes more complicated than it needs to be, and therefore more costly. Why waste time and money re-creating the documentation? If even modest documentation is contemporaneously created more time and energy can be spent in blowing out what is already there, rather than spending time and energy figuring out what is there. Those who are inventors should read “time and energy” as MONEY! You want the patent professional to be spending time where their expertise can make the most difference and add the most value.
Another problem with lack of documentation is that it will be extremely difficult, if not completely impossible, to produce the required evidence to demonstrate that you were the first to invent, should that ever be necessary. Much heated debate has gone on over whether the patent reform bill should shift the US from a first inventor system to a first inventor to file system. What is lost in the debate frequently is the reality that most inventors simply do not have the evidence available to prove they were the first to invent because of inadequate documentation. On top of that, just because it proves to you that you engaged in activities doesn’t mean that it will prove that to a court or the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences. Many successful inventors have learned that lesson over the years. In fact this happened to Gordon Gould, who is widely credited as being the inventor of the laser. He was unable to obtain an early patent because he didn’t have the documentation to demonstrate he was the first to invent, although he probably was. He took off work to spend time on his invention, and could demonstrate he took off many days. What he was unable to prove, among other things, is what he did on those days. Because he incorrectly thought he needed a working prototype to file a patent application he filed later that another, and without evidence that showed what he had done and when he had done it he couldn’t prevail.
So the moral of the story, which is brought out so wonderfully by Scott Adams through these Dilbert comic strips, is that documentation is critical. Cryptic notes about a “goat head issue” are not going to cut it. Successful inventors will treat their pursuits as a business, keep appropriate records and not unnecessarily waste time (MONEY) by giving their patent attorneys or agents little or nothing useful to work with. To be sure, if the proponents of patent reform get their way this will matter less in the grand scheme of things because inventors will need to file as soon as practical and not rely on the pipe dream of being the first to invent, which almost never actually leads to the true first inventor being the one who is awarded a patent anyway.- - - - - - - - - -
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Posted in: Educational Information for Inventors, Fun Stuff, Gene Quinn, Inventors Information, IP News, IPWatchdog.com Articles, Patents, Technology & Innovation
About the Author
Gene Quinn is a Patent Attorney and the founder of the popular blog IPWatchdog.com, which has for three of the last four years (i.e., 2010, 2012 and 2103) been recognized as the top intellectual property blog by the American Bar Association. He is also a principal lecturer in the PLI Patent Bar Review Course. As an electrical engineer with a computer engineering focus his specialty is electronic and computer devices, Internet applications, software and business methods.