The Intellectual Property Owners Education Foundation currently has an open Call for Nominations for the 40th Annual Inventor of the Year Award. Nominations are due by May 15, 2013, and the winner (and the nominators) will be honored on Monday, December 10, 2013, in Washington, D.C. at a gala event. Last year the awards ceremony was attended by approximately 300 people, with the event being held in the old Patent Office building in Washington, DC, which is now home to the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. In my opinion, the IPO Inventor of the Year award ceremony is one of the best events our industry hosts, and one I look forward to every year.
The purpose of the award is to increase public awareness of inventors and how they benefit the nation’s economy and our quality of life. To accomplish this goal the IPO Inventor of the Year Award recognizes the most outstanding recent inventor (or inventors in the case of joint invention). Thus, nominations are being solicited from independent inventors, as well as inventors employed in industry, universities, and government. While some of the material you may have read indicates that the invention must be U.S. centric, inventions originating outside the U.S. are eligible for the award.
If you do decide to nominate someone keep in mind the invention must be of recent vintage. This is not a lifetime achievement award as would be the case with the Inventors Hall of Fame, for example.
This is one of those articles that I write every so often, in slightly different ways, in order to try and explain to inventors what it is that they need to know before they make an enormously costly mistake. For better or for worse, there is a popular conception that patent attorneys and patent agents are not really necessary and an inventor can do it themselves and save money. The truth is that patent attorneys are among the most highly trained attorneys you will ever meet. In addition to having to successfully complete law school and take a State Bar Examination, patent attorneys must have a scientific background or else they cannot even sit for the Patent Bar Examination. As my friend John White explains, a person becomes a patent attorney when they lack sufficient personality and charisma to do tax work! But when it comes to describing your invention in a document that will grant you exclusive rights with respect to only what is disclosed and claimed, isn’t that the exact type of person you want in your corner?
It is extremely common for inventors to make mistakes that will render their hopes and dreams of a patent null and void. I cannot tell you how many times over my career I have talked to inventors who have come up with something really special and are now ready to file a patent application. Frequently the story is that the inventor created something several years ago (perhaps more) and they have been using it and people love it. They finally now have the money to pursue a patent and want to get started. Those familiar with patent law know they cannot get started, because rights have irreparably been lost. The only recourse is to improve your magnum opus enough so that it is patentably unique compared to your original invention, which is not something that is typically easy for individuals to do.
Another thing I see with increasing frequency is the inventor who doesn’t have much money and who wants to do things themselves. The first question inventors without much money should ask themselves is whether they should even be pursuing an invention. The cost of filing for and obtaining a patent is typically quite minor in comparison to the amount of money required to create, market and distribute the invention. So if you can only muster several hundred dollars and need to file your own application because that is all you have, what are the realistic chances that you will be able to move forward in the commercialization process? Have you thoughtfully considered what you will do with the patent? Have you explored whether there are realistic licensing opportunities? Do you know there is a market for the invention?
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is revising the rules of practice in patent cases to implement the micro entity provision of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA). See Changes To Implement Micro Entity Status for Paying Patent Fees 77 FR 75019 (December 19, 2012). Certain patent fees set or adjusted under the fee setting authority in the AIA will be reduced by seventy-five percent for micro entities. The USPTO is revising the rules of practice to set out the procedures pertaining to claiming micro entity status, paying patent fees as a micro entity, notification of loss of micro entity status, and correction of payments of patent fees paid erroneously in the micro entity amount.
In a separate rulemaking, the Office is in the process of proposing to set or adjust patent fees under the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act, including setting fees for micro entities with a seventy-five percent reduction. The Office has sought to address the concerns of its stakeholders as expressed in the public comment, and plans to seek additional public comment on the micro entity provisions after the Office and the public have gained experience with the micro entity procedures in operation. The Office will pursue further improvements to the micro entity procedures in light of the public comment and its experience with the micro entity procedures.
On October 15, 2012, I went on the record with inventor coach, inventor and author, Stephen Key. To many Key is known as the man behind InventRight, which is a comprehensive 10-step program to help aspiring inventors.
Over the past several years, however, Key is becoming known as an author. Nearly two years after his first book — One Simple Idea: Turn Your Ideas Into a Licensing Goldmine — was published it continues to be in the top 50 books for small business on Amazon.com, and is #1 in small business marketing. In this segment of my interview we will learn that the book is still selling 100 copies per week, which is no small accomplishment two years later.
We pick up our conversation with where many inventors stumble as they attempt to move from idea person to small business person. We also discuss lessons learned from a Big Bang Theory episode, as well as the important of taking reasonable risks, protecting your innovations (Key is a fan of provisional patent applications to start) and the importance of knowing the market for your product. For part 1 of our conversation please see: Discussing Startups & Entrepreneurship with Author Stephen Key.
In addition to being an inventor coach and successful author (both of Key’s books are in the Amazon.com top 100 for Small Business and Entrepreneurship), Key is also a successful inventor. Perhaps Key’s biggest, most successful invention relates to a rotatable label system and associated method. The earliest patent I found relating to what became a patent portfolio to cover this innovation is U.S. Patent No. 5,809,674. Key’s innovation adds 75% more labeling space to a container. This patent family was owned by Stephen Key Designs, LLC, which was acquired by Accudial Pharmaceuticalin the Fall of 2011. See Key Scores His Own Big Success. Thus, Key is more than the typical coach or author. He has had real success in his own right and many of the students he teaches and consults with have succeeded in their own right. Simply put, Stephen Key knows a thing or two about inventing, licensing, taking reasonable and appropriate risks and succeeding as an entrepreneur.
I spoke with Key on the record on October 15, 2012. We discussed his new book, as well as some of the critically important considerations that go into starting a business based on a product idea. Over and over again Key will preach to keep things simple, not in a patronizing way, but rather to make sure that things are pursued in a reasonable fashion in workable increments. Inventors and would-be entrepreneurs will learn a lot from this interview, and for under $14 on Amazon.com you won’t go wrong with his new book either.
Have you ever wonder how could the skilled person look like? What about an inventor? We talk about the mythical person of skill in the art, and romanticize the inventor, whether an independent inventor or professional inventor, but what comes to mind when you talk about these people?
Well if you have never given time to consider an appropriate representation of these people no worries. Pierre Favre, an examiner from the European Patent Office who is one of 18 examiners working in the area of solar cell technology, and Tina Heuter, an artist from Berlin, Germany, worked together for many years to create a representation of both the skilled person and the inventor.
Many corporations do exactly the wrong thing during a recession, namely downsize, spend less on research and development and essentially shoot themselves in the foot. But myopic corporations are not the only ones who engage in activities that are contrary to their own interest. Independent inventors and small businesses are struggling and for every encouraging economic sign there are many others that show a stalled recovery; a recovery that was already going to slow to start with. There is nothing wrong with being cost conscious, but there is a difference between being cost conscious and being cheap.
As is the case with all recessions or economic downturns, more and more people are turning to inventing. Just over the last several months, since at least late winter 2012, I’ve seen an uptick in the number of inquiries from inventors of various levels of experience who are interested in doing their own thing, starting a company or expanding the small business they already have to incorporate some new invention. This is not at all surprising, and is in fact exactly what you would expect. For many of these individuals and businesses, however, cost is the primary driving concern. They want to succeed, but they need to keep costs down. That is understandable and commendable, but when cost consciousness grows to the point where it interferes with proper execution of the plan then one has to at least ask whether it makes sense to pursue the plan.
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