Whether you are an independent inventor, an fledgling entrepreneur or a seasoned inventor who is going out on your own for the first time, the best thing you can do for yourself is to become familiar with the concepts and procedure associated with protecting your inventions. Obtaining patents is not easy for the uninitiated, and without some familiarity you will be wandering aimlessly and wholly incapable of making sound business decisions. Simply stated: Inventors who are completely unfamiliar with the patent process also won’t be able to help in any meaningful way with the patent process, and they will make poor strategic decisions that can lead to the loss of all rights.
So let’s start with the basics. A patent is a proprietary right granted by the United States federal government to an inventor who files a patent application with the United States Patent Office. Therefore, unlike copyright and trademark protection, patent protection will only exist upon the issuance of a patent, which requires you to file a patent application. Simply stated, if you do not obtain a patent you have no exclusive rights. This is why inventors should never disclose their invention outside of a confidential relationship. Such a relationship is legally created immediately upon seeking professional advice from a patent attorney or patent agent, but in all other situations if you do not have a patent you should be extremely cautious about disclosing invention information without a confidentiality agreement. What others learn from you outside of a confidential relationship can be used with or without your permission, and without giving you any compensation.
Furthermore, despite what you may have been told or read, keeping a detailed invention notebook, even if you mail a description of the invention to yourself, provides no exclusive rights whatsoever. It is extremely important to keep detailed invention records in case you ever need to prove the particular date you invented, which even in some extremely limited ways may still be relevant even under a first to file regime ushered in by the America Invents Act (AIA), but keeping such records will never provide you any exclusive rights. You absolutely must file a patent application and have that application mature into an issued patent in order to obtain exclusive rights to your invention.
Pictured (from left) Francis Hamilton (IBM engineer), Clair Lake (IBM engineer) Howard Aiken (Harvard professor) and Benjamin Durfee (IBM engineer) — 2014 National Inventors Hall of Fame inductees for their invention of the Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator (ASCC)
Later this evening the National Inventors Hall of Fame will induct three IBM (NYSE: IBM) engineers for their invention of the Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator (ASCC), which was developed more than 70 years ago to rapidly and accurately perform complex mathematical calculations. The ASCC was a precursor to today’s cognitive computing systems like IBM Watson, which rapidly analyze data and learn and interact naturally with people. The ASCC ushered in the programmable computing era, which would ultimately provide the ability to put a man on the moon and to make the Internet a reality.
IBM inventors Benjamin Durfee, Francis Hamilton and Clair Lake, as well as Harvard professor and co-inventor Howard Aiken, will be posthumously honored by the Hall of Fame in a ceremony at the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the home of the National Inventors Hall of Fame. The National Inventors Hall of Fame, Inc. is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to recognizing and honoring invention and creativity, as well as honoring the men and women responsible for the great technological advances that make human, social and economic progress possible.
Durfee, Hamilton, Lake and Aiken will be inducted for their invention disclosed in U.S. Patent No. 2,616,626, which is simply titled Calculator. The patent application was filed on February 8, 1945, but did not issue until November 4, 1952. The invention described in the ’626 patent was the first automatic digital calculator able to retain mathematical rules in its memory and not require reprogramming to solve a new set of problems. It represented a significant advance. Because reprogramming was not necessary, the invention was a powerful improvement, offering far greater speed in performing a host of complex mathematical calculations.
The only Figure from Davis’ U.S. Patent No. 139,121.
On May 20, 1873, an icon American fashion was born, or at least patented, when the United States Patent and Trademark Office issued U.S. Patent No. 139,121, titled Fastening Pocket-Openings. The ’121 patent, which was granted to Jacob W. Davis and jointly assigned to himself and to Levi Strauss & Company, ushered in the era of denim blue jeans. The ’121 patent specifically related to copper rivet fasteners for denim trousers, which proved to be extremely desirable and durable.
Davis, a tailor by training, revolutionized fashion after being asked by a customer if he could create a durable pair of trousers for her husband, who was a woodcutter. When Davis created these pants he used the now familiar copper rivet fasteners. Davis charged only $3 for that first pair of jeans in 1870. See Your Denim Jeans Are a Nevada Invention.
The durable patents with the rivets turned out to be extremely popular, with more and more customers asking for Davis to make them a pair of the rivet clad durable pants. It was at this point that David thought that he was on to something big, which lead him to want to patent what he had invented. In order to accomplish this he approached Levi Strauss and ask him to partner with him. Strauss agreed and paid the patent fees. See Jacob Davis and the Copper-riveted Jeans.
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 misconception 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 taken a State Bar Examination, patent attorneys must have a scientific background or else they cannot even sit for the Patent Bar Examination. As 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?
Of course, financial resources can and do provide a real impediment to moving forward with any business opportunity. Unless you are independently wealthy you are almost certainly going to need to proceed one step at a time as you move forward toward your goal of commercial success and financial reward. That means investing wisely, and sometimes doing more on your own than you would like. To get from point A, where you have an idea or early stage invention, to point B, where you are reaping the rewards, it is imperative to proceed in a business responsible way. That must also include proceeding with your eyes fully open and understanding the potential pitfalls and consequences if you are going to attempt to represent yourself in the patent world. If the choice is to move forward on your own versus not moving forward at all, then representing yourself is the only option. If you have the choice and can afford professional assistance, hiring a patent practitioner should be considered essential.
In order for any patent application to be complete the invention must be described with great particularity. Many times an inventor will only generally describe the invention in a patent application, which creates a significant problem.
This problem recently presented itself to me when an inventor provided me with an extremely vague description of their invention and wanted me to do a patent search and prepare a provisional patent application. I explained to the inventor that I needed much more detailed information. The inventor told me that he supplied plenty of information and was not going to supply any more because he wanted to keep the description very general. That is, of course, his right, but a general description is a recipe for failure. I declined representation. I don’t need those type of headaches.
This interaction is more common than you might think. Inventors not only frequently think they know more about patents than a patent attorney, but inventors also frequently think it is best to have the broadest most vague description of an invention possible. Conceptually a general description may seem best, but if you have any knowledge of U.S. patent law you realize that general, non-informative and vague descriptions are unacceptable. The law simply requires more.
Last night at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, CA, the best and the brightest film stars, directors, producers and more came together for the 86th Academy Awards. This year’s awards ceremony, hosted by talk show personality and comedienne Ellen DeGeneres, was centered around the theme of honoring movie heroes, especially those acts which the camera doesn’t catch on the set.
The big winners were 12 Years a Slave, which came away with 2 Oscars including one for best picture, Gravity, which walked away with 7 Oscars, and Dallas Buyers Club, which saw Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto come away with Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor respectively.
But this is not an article about the Academy Awards per se. With all the hype about the Academy Awards we thought it might be interesting to see just how many Hollywood celebrities were inventors. Below is our list of the most interesting inventions from a number of well known actors and directors.
EDITORIAL NOTE: Each year February is Black History Month, but this year we will also mark the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. With this in mind we decided to do a series celebrating the important and innovative contributions of African-Americans. Earlier this month Eric Guttag wrote The Black Edison: Granville T. Woods. What is below is part 2 of his article on George Washington Carver. To read part 1 visit God’s Scientist: George Washington Carver. Later this month we also will take a look at recent innovations coming out of historically black colleges and universities. For more on this topic please visit black inventorson IPWatchdog.com.
George Washington Carver circa 1910.
Carver received a fair degree of recognition at Iowa State College as the only African-American with advanced training in agricultural science. He also enjoyed a fairly comfortable income considering his very humble upbringing. By being the only African-American with advanced training in agricultural science, many other universities also wanted Carver as a professor in that science.
Then one day in 1896 came a letter from Booker T. Washington, President of the fledgling Tuskegee Institute (its full name then was “Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute”). Booker T. Washington was a well-known and influential African-American educator, later to visit the White House at the invitation of then President Theodore Roosevelt. Like Carver, Booker T. Washington had been born into slavery and felt that African-Americans must be educated if they were to achieve economic, as well as racial equality in American society.
EDITORIAL NOTE: Each year February is Black History Month, but this year we will also mark the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. With this in mind we decided to do a series celebrating the important and innovative contributions of African-Americans. This article is about George Washington Carver. Earlier this month Eric Guttag also wrote The Black Edison: Granville T. Woods. Later this month we also will take a look at recent innovations coming out of historically black colleges and universities. For more on this topic please visit black inventorson IPWatchdog.com.
George Washington Carver in 1942.
Again, in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, here is my second article on African-American inventors: George Washington Carver. Carver was not only a talented innovator, but was also an extremely gifted educator and scientist.
So as I usually do, let’s start off with a couple of questions. Before today, how many of you knew George Washington Carver was a scientist and educator? Now how many of you knew Carver was also a talented painter, as well as a talented musician? How many of you knew that Carver was a man of devout Christian faith? Well, before this article ends, you may learn quite a few things about Carver you never knew before.
I’ve divided this tribute to Carver into essentially six sections, which will be covered in a two-part series. I begin by giving you an overview of the early years of Carver’s life, including his family background, early education, as well as his developing Christian faith. Then we will move onto Carver’s activities as a young adult. In part 2 of this series we will then review the most well-known part of Carver’s career, as an educator and scientist at Tuskegee Institute, including the tremendous impact he had in educating young black students, and the local farm community near Tuskegee, as well as exploring and revealing the wonders of agricultural science, including innovating and developing the infant domestic peanut industry. We will then close out Carver’s career during his final years at the Tuskegee Institute. And, if it’s possible to do it justice, in the last section, I’ll wrap up with a final assessment of Carver’s legacy on those he touched directly, and also on those of us like you and me that he has touched indirectly.