Indie Innovators Still Exist, Barely

By Tesia Thomas
February 5, 2018

“[T]he patents of those who threaten the status quo are challenged while patents of market leaders are left intact.”

Tesia Thomas, independent inventor off of the Klos® brand closure, in her workshop.

I recently went to the USPTO Inventor Hall of Fame with my comrades from US Inventor and I realized that many, if not most, of the Hall of Fame inductees were individuals who were part of established companies.

At first, I was struck with awe and wonderment— and hope. Maybe I will be listed here one day. But then I got sad. I realized that all of these successful inventors have expired patents and many successful individual inventors today have invalidated patents. And, that is what I expect for myself.

I woefully thought—

Maybe I and none of my generation will make it into the USPTO Hall of Fame because none of us will have valid patents, valid inventions. Maybe none of my generation will thus be independent inventors. Maybe the Independent Inventor career is over.

—————-

For the past two centuries before the America Invents Act was passed, patent laws in the United States were strong. There was no America Invents Act, which was created a PTAB to wipe out bad patents and patent trolls.

That was also when the very first zipper was created.

In 1851, Elias Howe invented the first toothed fastener device, see U.S. Patent No. 8,540.

In 1892, Whitcomb Judson invented the toothed fastener with a slider device, see U.S. Patent No. 504,037.

In 1914, Gideon Sundback created the modern toothed fastener, see U.S. Patent No. 1,219,881. Sundback is often credited with inventing the toothed fastener in general.

Nearly 200 years later, there are now well over 10,000 patents on toothed fasteners yet we’re all still using toothed fasteners that look and function almost indistinguishably from these prior patents. Toothed fasteners, as a class are zippers with individual and separate rigid, interlocking parts that sit along a fabric tape and which a slider closes and opens. I don’t think Gideon Sundback’s patent would have survived the PTAB in lieu of Elias Howe’s and Whitcomb Judson’s combined prior art.

And, the second zipper was created in a time of strong patent laws.

In 1927, Harry Sipe created a zip track with slider, see U.S. Patent No. 1,959,319.

In 1927, Gideon Sundback created a zip track with slider, see U.S. Patent No. 1,959,318.

In 1937, David Freedman improved Sundback’s zip track, see U.S. Patent No. 2,144,755.

In 1951, Borge Madsen improved upon Sipe’s zip track and created the modern zip track with slider, see U.S. Patent No. 2,613,421. Madsen is often credited with inventing the zip track in general.

Nearly 100 years later, there are now well over 10,000 patents on zip tracks yet we’re all still using zip tracks that look and function almost indistinguishably from these prior patents. Zip tracks, as a class are zippers that are wholly flexible and easily pressed together with fingers or with a slider. I don’t think Borge Madsen’s patent would have survived the PTAB in lieu of Harry Sipe’s, Gideon Sundback’s, and David Freedman’s combined prior art.

Perhaps all 10,000+ recent patents wouldn’t survive the PTAB either.

But, the worries created by the PTAB are not worries that these historical figures ever had. They had security, knowing that if their patent was approved that it was valid and would stay that way and the Patent Office would not suddenly seek to take the patent away. No matter how iterative the improvement was, patents remained valid, strong and worthwhile.

—————-

Large corporations own most of the recent zipper IP and have huge R&D labs and have spent billions, if not trillions, of dollars over nearly two centuries to perfect the zipper. Still, these large corporations are selling closures that closely resemble Gideon Sundback’s.

The government has huge R&D labs and it, too, has spent billions of dollars on zipper R&D over the last couple of centuries. Still, after testing every zipper in existence since 2016 and paying others for patent searches and development, the military is still searching for something new, something better.

—————-

That is where I come in.

I currently have the only publicly disclosed closure that the military has not tested and have not denied as not meeting their needs.

I contacted a government agency early on and asked for resources, which they have provided to others through grants. They denied resources despite open grants and asked for me to give them the technology so they could bring the research and development in house.

My largest zipper competitors reacted to my public disclosures, even contacting me about obtaining my earliest prototypes and descriptions of my thought processes yet denied knowing what the technology was.

Two centuries of time and billions of dollars spent and, finally, a visibly brand new solution from a young and comparably broke inventor.

Now, after dozens of people and companies have contacted me with interest in my closure, deeming it visibly unique and well-suited to their needs, I wonder will the future utilize my technology, yet my patents will be invalidated because the government and my private competitors so obviously don’t want me to own the IP to this creation.

I hope that as the government and large technology companies try to encourage young women and minorities to innovate that they will reflect on how they have treated me, a young, female, and minority inventor. I wonder if they would consider their initiatives fulfilled if my IP were to be allowed and then invalidated as has happened to my  friends who hold important and valuable yet not expired patents.

I wonder if either the government or private companies would try to invalidate the third zipper ever while the patents of 10,000+ iterations of the first two closures are left to expire.

I just want you to know that you’d be killing the future because I won’t invent in the US anymore if my current patents are issued and subsequently invalidated and those 10,000+ iterations are not similarly invalidated. But that isn’t how the Patent Office works, they only invalidate the patents of some under the guise of enhancing patent quality. What that means is the patents of those who threaten the status quo are challenged while patents of market leaders are left intact.

Perhaps the Patent Office should review the patents of Hall of Fame inductees under current legal standards to determine whether those inventors really deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. After all, when the law changes it is retroactively applied against inventors today. My guess is many celebrated inventors would be unceremoniously removed from the Hall of Fame if they were to have their patents reviewed as part of a quality enhancement program the USPTO calls the PTAB.

The Author

Tesia Thomas

Tesia Thomas is a young inventor and activist who is fed up with government and corporate doublethink and hypocrisy related to renewing manufacturing in America, inspiring females and minorities to innovate, and otherwise saying and not doing. She plans to keep the ‘groundbreaking garage inventor’ persona alive for another generation despite government, corporate, and academic desires to quell it as a myth and crush indie inventors with asinine laws and outright corruption. She is the founder of Zipr Shift (ziprshift.com) and creator of the third zipper ever – the exact closure technology that the military has been looking for since the end of WWII in order to seal chem/bio gear. As such, Tesia strives to tackle problems many decades older than her and might continue to reveal her solutions so long as US patent laws are strengthened to adequately protect those solutions as her private property.

Warning & Disclaimer: The pages, articles and comments on IPWatchdog.com do not constitute legal advice, nor do they create any attorney-client relationship. The articles published express the personal opinion and views of the author and should not be attributed to the author’s employer, clients or the sponsors of IPWatchdog.com. Read more.

Discuss this

There are currently 32 Comments comments. Join the discussion.

  1. Bemused February 5, 2018 7:31 am

    Bravo, Ms. Thomas. Both for sharing your story and for calling out the incalculable damage that the present patent system wreaks upon independent inventors. A copy of this article needs to be dropped off at every senator and congressman’s office.

  2. JPM February 5, 2018 10:13 am

    Tesia, excellent article. Let’s hope in the near future that the PTAB is shutdown completely or it is significantly reformed.

  3. Paul Morinville February 5, 2018 12:55 pm

    Tes, Thanks for putting this out there! We are in Washington this month. Be sure to find some time to come with us on the Hill. We have had about 150 meetings so far and are receiving a very strong reception for the US Inventor Act (USIA), which will fix many of the destruction of the PTAB you describe and many other terrible problems created by the courts for indie inventors like us.

    Also any other inventors are welcome to join us visiting Congress to push the USIA.

    See the USIA here: http://www.usinventor.org/2018/01/05/u-s-inventor-act-usia/

  4. Tesia Thomas February 5, 2018 2:48 pm

    @Bemused:
    Thank you. I will do that myself this week! Haha

    @JPM:
    Yes, I hope so. It is really not a good program especially when you look at historical IP and how iterative it is and realize that many if not most of the patents being invalidated are those of startups, small companies, and indie inventors.

    @Paul Morinville,
    See you end of this week!

    Everyone, read USI’s bill!
    It’s what Indie Inventors need to survive as a whole.

  5. Benny February 6, 2018 6:01 am

    Tesia,
    Lets assume that my company is impressed with your invention and wants to use it. What are our options?
    1. Hire you (best bet)
    2. Design around your invention (Cheapest option)
    3. Buy your patent outright, but for a comparatively small sum (5 figures)
    4. License your patent, but for pennies on the dollar.
    5. Spend 6 digits invalidating your patent (probably the worst option – very expensive, no guarantee of success or lack of continuations popping up, clearing the field for my competitors)
    6. Ignore the patent and hope you won’t notice or won’t take action

    Conclusions:
    1. There isn’t really an option here which enriches you significantly.
    2. Only one of the 6 options involves the PTAB, and it is the worst option.
    3.Our company’s bottom line is our primary concern. (That’s capitalism for you)

  6. Anon February 6, 2018 8:07 am

    Benny,

    Your “6.” has a corollary: transgress the property right with impunity and force the rights holder to spend its money on enforcement actions that are multiples of the money in your “5.” option, thereby eliminating the ability of the rights holder to compete with you.

    Your “1.” is hardly the “best bet” at all, given that the corollary to 6 has basically zero initial cost.

    Your “2.” is highly fact dependent (and IS NOT the cheapest option).

    Your “3.” and “4.” are diminished in light of the corollary to 6.

    Your bias and leanings towards the viewpoints of the Efficient Infringer once again show in your comments here. It’s almost as if you are purposefully trying to hide from what is really happening – and what is really a major cause of consternation for the independent inventors.

  7. Benny February 6, 2018 8:20 am

    Anon.
    I’m not here to judge what is right and what is wrong. I’m giving you an insight as to what the powerpoint slides would look like in the boardroom. Option 2, at least where I work, would be the primary task. Option 6 carries no insignificant risk and would likely be the last choice. Note that in the case of independent inventors there is no opportunity to cross-license, which would otherwise be a lucrative option.
    On the other hand, if independent inventors are willing to accept a reasonable return on investment instead of holding out for untold riches, we would sign the check without blinking.

  8. Tesia Thomas February 6, 2018 10:07 am

    Benny,

    I wish my competition a lot of luck designing around the tech. I’m sure they are working tirelessly to do so.

    The thing is…
    They don’t want to act on that design around because they’d have to disrupt their entire supply chain.
    This isn’t some small change from making one injection molded product to another.
    No, my largest competitor in the world smelts the brass and likely weaves the cotton tape (though they really own the company that does that more or less.)

    They control all of their supply chain.

    Can your company afford to hire replacement workers or train all of your workers?
    Can your company afford to put nearly ALL of your old equipment for sale or throw it out?

    This is pure disruption and they at first wanted to use the military to obliterate me.

  9. Tesia Thomas February 6, 2018 10:14 am

    Benny,

    This is a prime anti-competitive example.
    The military knows they need my zipper and won’t honorably work with me because they’re trying to get jobs at my competitors or they’ve worked for them so long that they are fighting for them to not be disrupted.
    The military has publicly renounced toothed zippers as being good for chem/bio stuff yet YKK and Natick sit on the ASTM standards committee and IDEAL Fastener gets zipper contracts from the Army.

    It’s big companies resisting progress through buying or tying up people who can use the power of the state to enforce their desires!

    Which includes failing on their mission to support women, minorities, and manufacturing.
    Because I check all of the above and am in a direct position to help part of the government (DoD.)

  10. Benny February 6, 2018 10:33 am

    Tesia,
    We can’t afford not to be ahead of our competitors, Still playing the scenario that my company wants your tech, we would not want to be in the position where you sell your patent to a competitor. In that case, we would be spending more money to invalidate the patent than our competitor spent buying it, and we would be silly.
    When does your application publish? You have aroused my curiousity. (I could create an alert on your name and get it delivered the day it publishes).
    By the way, we use Velcro.

  11. Anon February 6, 2018 10:43 am

    Benny,

    I call B$ on your reply of “I’m not here to judge what is right and what is wrong. I’m giving you an insight as to what the powerpoint slides would look like in the boardroom.

    First, I was not indicating any type of “right versus wrong” in debunking your post at 5. What I was doing was adding points that you “conveniently” omitted. Your “boardroom” view does not pass the smell test. Instead of the boardroom, what you suggest is nothing more than the marketing schlup that is passed out in attempt to “validate” the Efficient Infringer tactics.

    Make no mistake, the number of companies of the Efficient Infringer ilk that put “2.” anywhere close to being their number one aim are de minimis. I’ve worked in both “normal” firms and in R&D driven firms, and yes, in the latter type one may find “2.” prioritized higher. BUT THAT IS NOT THE POINT HERE.

    Your statement of “Option 6 carries no insignificant risk and would likely be the last choice” simply does not accord with reality. You trying to sell that view is not going to work.

    Your statement of “Note that in the case of independent inventors there is no opportunity to cross-license, which would otherwise be a lucrative option.” rather betrays how Efficient Infringers used to play the patent game – and exactly why they sought out to vilify the “Tr011” who was not subject to patent Armageddon.

    Your statement of “if independent inventors are willing to accept a reasonable return on investment instead of holding out for untold riches, we would sign the check without blinking.” also simply does not accord with reality for Efficient Infringers. You want to make it seem that the problems are nor real.

    They very much ARE real.

  12. Tesia Thomas February 6, 2018 10:49 am

    “In that case, we would be spending more money to invalidate the patent than our competitor spent buying it, and we would be silly.”

    – Benny

    Benny just said his company will invalidate a patent if it threatens its business!

    This is exactly why the PTAB in anti-competitive!!

    You didn’t even mention the 10,000+ iterations of your competitors, the REAL bad patents. You just take out the one that disrupts your bottom line!

  13. Tesia Thomas February 6, 2018 10:56 am

    Benny,

    WTF. Great.
    You use Velcro. Velcro is great but not at all competition for the zipper. And it has a much smaller market size than the zipper.

    So no worries here.

    I won’t go into discussing my IP publicly. Feel free to set alerts!

    I love being on the mind of people not even in my industry!!
    Dream about me Benny. Nightmares… about someone like me disrupting your industry.

  14. Tesia Thomas February 6, 2018 11:10 am

    Benny,

    Also, my tech was never for license to zipper manufacturers.
    They contacted me and tried!

    They can’t make it so at best they would buy it and shelve it.
    I didn’t want that. So I make it and sell it.

    See, Benny, true disruption is when your competitors are so old and so well entrenched that they are like a tree that must be uprooted.
    There’s just no way that tree is going to morph into something else. It has to be cut down.
    And my competitors are nearly centenarians and very stuck in their ways.

    Happy entirely disrupting themselves with design arounds!

  15. Benny February 6, 2018 2:57 pm

    Tesia,
    regarding your post #12, re-read, I said we would be silly if we found ourselves in a position where invalidation or defeat are the only options open to us. It is invariably the most expensive option for any but the large corporations.
    Regarding post #13, we use velcro for the dust covers. Zipper not a good option there.
    Anon – any option that stays the lawyer’s shadow from darkening our doorway is a good option.

  16. Tesia Thomas February 6, 2018 3:19 pm

    Benny,

    Who cares what you explain? You said that is something you would do.
    And, yes, you would be silly for it.
    However, you did not mention the 10,000+ iterative patents.
    This is why PTAB should not be available to companies. One should not have the option to get rid of disruptive IP while leaving non-disruptive IP.
    That is the point and it does not go away no matter how you explain.

    No. Many dust covers use zippers for closing the cover. Velcro straps for secure fit.
    Also, my largest zipper competitor makes hook and loop (knock off Velcro) and sells a lot of it.

    Does your company even buy from Velcro? Or do you just misuse the trademark while you buy knock off hook and loop?

  17. Benny February 6, 2018 3:34 pm

    Tesia,
    We outsource entire components according to specification, which leaves the outside contractor leeway in choosing their own suppliers. Velcro, having no metal parts, has an advantage where corrosion might be an issue. I’m pretty sure the lowest bidder east of where I sit doesn’t buy original parts. First sale exhausts patent rights, so I don’t concern myself with our supplier’s IP nightmares beyond maintaining a list of alternative sources.

  18. Tesia Thomas February 6, 2018 3:54 pm

    Benny,

    So you abuse the trademark. OK.
    That’s enough explanation.

  19. Anon February 6, 2018 4:53 pm

    Anon – any option that stays the lawyer’s shadow from darkening our doorway is a good option.

    You clearly are not properly understanding – or using – counsel very well with a statement like that.

    I am not surprised.

  20. Roger Heath February 7, 2018 1:44 am

    Your book will be epic. I pray for your success, and hope you and others can guide those like myself through similar tribulations.

  21. Tesia Thomas February 7, 2018 2:07 am

    Roger,

    Thank you. I hope for your success as well!!
    I do hope to guide other inventors.
    Please blog. Not about your research until you have IP but about your journey.

    Don’t listen to the people who tell you not to tell your story (even if they’re lawyers.)
    Tell it as it unfolds. And archive the blog postings.
    It will create a public record.

    We indie inventors get robbed and no one hears about it until there’s a news story. We need to change that.
    Your story could help an inventor navigate the gauntlet in the future.
    We need to document the tribulations better – it’s easier to thwart challenges and attacks when you know exactly what to expect.

    Josh, Paul, Zond, Wes, etc were that for me. I’ll be that for you. You be that for others.

  22. Roger Heath February 7, 2018 5:07 am

    Your reply is an honor.

    My journey stands now at over 1,300 primary simulation (files) since July, 2013. Each involving numerous simulation adjustments and reruns.

    Areas of interest – energy and transportation.
    Initial design goal met.
    Sub-component horizontal design applications pending.
    Retrofit design pending (supersedes initial design).
    Prototypes pending.

    Software upgrade purchases pending.

    Throughout design I have studied and reviewed the IP potential. I could only expect experiences not unlike your own and other micro-entities.

    Not much of a blog, but more than I usually reveal.

  23. Night Writer February 7, 2018 6:26 am

    This is really a good point. By invalidating all these patents and having insane case law like Benson and Alice, it devalues the people that make inventions. It spits in the face of the inventor.

  24. Tesia Thomas February 7, 2018 12:53 pm

    @Roger,

    Aww. Your reply is an honor. I’m no better or less than anyone whether inventor or not. I just basically condemn people who don’t act with integrity because I try my very best to do so.
    Any one of we inventors could become successful and our companies could turn into Google. There’s a lot of good Google does as well though I think the bad outweighs the good.

    But, yeah, I just want to reiterate: don’t worry about legal issues. Blog. Your competitors will sue you either way. Every dying company will try to sue over something just to slow down their disruptor especially if you’re in a mature industry like zippers. Lol

    The blog can be about just the struggles of bootstrapping, paying bills, being an adult inventor. It’s all real.
    I wish you a lot of success. 🙂

  25. Kevin February 8, 2018 5:49 am

    Tesia, wow! You are amazing, such an inspiration. Keep fighting, and keep strong. I love your resilience and dedication while still being humble.

  26. Tesia Thomas February 8, 2018 11:03 am

    @Night Writer,

    Yes it is. The public benefits from our technologies while we inventors end up destitute.

    Are we charity workers? Inventors will mortgage their houses to pay for IP.
    Our competitors make billions of dollars on our innovations while we lose our houses and become destitute.

    No one works for free. Why should inventors?

    &
    @Kevin,

    Thank you. I’m only arrogant when talking to my competitors lol as I call them ‘simple’ for spending billions of dollars and years of time to do almost nothing for the state of the art of zippers.

    They consider people like me – indie inventors – worthless yet my IP could bring them down completely.

    1 woman vs. Several giant corporations…
    And all it takes is one great idea to level the playing field…so they use the law to take it away.

    The power of ideas. And this is exactly why SV giants proclaim with their propaganda that ‘ideas are worthless.’

  27. Benny February 8, 2018 11:08 am

    Tesia,
    Disregard my comment at 10, I just realized that your application has already published. I read it (well, most of it). Technically interesting, however I did wonder whether there is significant commercial advantage over solutions such as US3230593, but I suppose it depends on the intended use. You will know for sure someone is commercially interested if you see a third party submission
    filed.
    BTW, no one says “hook and loop” when they mean “hook and loop”, normal people just shorten it to “Velcro(R)” despite the silly songs Velcro posts on Youtube. (they did – look it up).

  28. Tesia Thomas February 8, 2018 11:13 am

    Benny,

    Who cares what you think about my IP? Not I.

    I’ve heard the songs. But people do respect their mark and call the knock offs hook and loop.

    Btw my buddy Paul Morinville told me to tell you that I would not work for your company if it was the last company on earth.
    Tbh I’d probably try to disrupt it.

  29. Benny February 8, 2018 11:15 am

    Tesia,
    I think the commuting to our place would put you off, actually. It’s a long (long..long..) drive from where you are. But the food in the canteen isn’t bad.

  30. Tesia Thomas February 8, 2018 11:19 am

    Benny,

    Could I even drive there?
    Are you English/British?

  31. Night Writer February 11, 2018 8:46 pm

    @5 Benny

    I think Benny does a good job summing up how the tables have turned for the corporations.

  32. Night Writer February 12, 2018 10:37 am

    >>3.Our company’s bottom line is our primary concern. (That’s capitalism for you)

    I used to be a product manager at a large corporation. It is a very cruel world where we had lots of competitors and giving inventors their due was not high on our list of priorities.

    We simply are not going to pay a penny more for something than we have to.

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