Many within the independent inventor community are well acquainted with John Calvert. Calvert originally started out working for the United States Patent and Trademark Office as a patent examiner, but by the time he retired twenty-four years later he was in charge of the independent inventor outreach efforts of the USPTO. I have known him for a long time, he is a friend, and he has been a champion for the independent inventor community.
When Calvert retired in June 2014 I was saddened to see a him leave, but also saddened because I know how tirelessly he works to inform, educate and assist independent inventors. While he has no doubt earned a quite retirement I am extremely pleased to say that in retirement Calvert will continue to work with independent inventors; he was recently hired as the new Executive Director of the United Inventors Association (UIA). His energy, passion, knowledge and contacts should dramatically impact the UIA in a positive way. Good things are no doubt on the horizon.
Calling all inventors! InventionHome is once again hosting what is becoming a yearly DRTV Product Summit. The one-day event will be held on Wednesday, October 22, 2014 at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Inventors will be given the opportunity to pitch their products to representatives of the six (6) DRTV companies on one day in one location.
This will be the fourth such DRTV Product Summit hosted by InventionHome. Over the first three Summits some 66 inventors pitched their inventions in the format described above. 61 of the 66 have left the Summit with at least one of the company representatives expressing some interest in pursuing additional discussions. Ultimately, 18 of the 66 inventors have received either a term sheet, licensing deal or rep agreement.
Unfortunately, this event is not open to all inventors. Over the past few years the event has grown and there has been significant interest in the inventor community. In order to be considered inventors must submit their inventions to be reviewed by a panel of referees. Submissions are due no later than Tuesday, September 30, 2014. The submission and selection process insures that only the highest quality inventions are presented to the representatives of the DRTV companies that will be present. This maximizes the value for those DRTV companies, which means they keep coming back year after year. It also reserves pitch time for inventors with the most commercially ready products that have the greatest immediate chance for a deal.
The focus of this particular article is on the disclosure of the invention in the specification. While it is true that the claims will define the exclusive rights that are granted to the patentee, the specification provides the information through which the claims are read. The specification provides the detail that defines what the claims mean, and as the result of a variety of cases over the past few years the specification is becoming an increasingly important part of the patent application. It has always been required and very important, but Courts seem to be marching the United States toward a strict technological advancement standard, which means the technology, mechanics, structure, architecture and environment in which the invention is used really needs to be described with as much detail as possible in order to guarantee that the claims are viewed as covering an innovation and not something trivial or unimportant.
One of the biggest problems that inventors face when setting out to define their invention is with describing what the law refers to as “alternative embodiments of the invention.” Most inventors are quite good at describing exactly what they have invented. The invention is your work and you know it best, so it is not surprising that most inventors can (with enough effort) explain the preferred version of the invention; what the law refers to as the “preferred embodiment.” Nevertheless, it is absolutely essential to think outside the box when describing your invention in any patent application. Stop and think about different ways that your invention can be made or used, even if you deem them to be inferior. Failure to disclose alternatives will almost certainly foreclose your ability to say those alternatives are covered by your disclosure, which will prevent any issued patent from covering those undefined variations.
Focusing only on the large picture and not describing nuances and alternatives may not seem like a big deal, but history has shown that it is critical. If you are lucky enough to have invented something of great importance there will be a number of individuals and companies trying to capitalize on the opportunity you have created. If you dismiss variations or entirely different and unique embodiments then you are leaving those to the individuals and/or companies that would seek to capitalize on a product or process that is similar to your own, but not specifically covered by your patent claims. So what can you do?
Before June of 1995, the patent laws in the United States provided that the term of a utility or plant patent ended seventeen years from the date of patent grant. To comply with Article 33 of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement resulting from the Uruguay Round Agreements of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the United States was required to establish a minimum term for patent protection ending no earlier than twenty years from the date the application was filed. Thus, the Uruguay Round Agreements Act amended 35 U.S.C. § 154, and these amendments took effect on June 8, 1995.
Generally speaking, utility and plant patent applications filed on or after June 8, 1995, have a term that begins on the date the patent issues and ends on the date that is twenty years from the date on which the application for the patent was filed in the United States. If the application that ultimately issues contains a specific reference to an earlier filed US or international application, the term ends twenty years from the filing date of the earliest such application. This patent term provision is referred to as the “twenty-year term.”
Generally speaking, “intellectual property” is probably best thought of (at least form a conceptual standpoint) as creations of the mind that are given the legal rights often associated with real or personal property. The rights that are obtained by the creator are a function of statutory law (i.e., law created by the legislature). These statutes may be federal or state laws, or in some instance both federal and state law govern various aspect of a single type of intellectual property.
The term intellectual property itself is now commonly used to refer to the bundle of rights conferred by each of the following fields of law: (1) patent law; (2) copyright law; (3) trade secret law; (4) the right of publicity; and (5) trademark and unfair competition law. Some people confuse these areas of intellectual property law, and although there may be some similarities among these kinds of intellectual property protection, they are different and serve different purposes.
In order to obtain exclusive rights on an invention the law requires that the patent applicant particularly point out and distinctly claim the subject matter which the inventor regards as his or her invention. Any patent, or patent application, contains a variety of different sections that contain different information. Generally speaking, a patent is divided into a specification, drawings and patent claims. Only the patent claims define the exclusive right granted to the patent applicant; the rest of the patent is there to facilitate understanding of the claimed invention. Therefore, patent claims are in many respects the most important part of the patent application because it is the claims that define the invention for which the Patent Office has granted protection.
35 USC 112 requires that the applicant shall particularly point out and distinctly claim the subject matter which he or she regards as his or her invention. The portion of the application in which he or she does this forms the claim or claims. The claims are in many respects the most important part of the application because it is the claims that define the invention for which protection is granted.
Like most statutes, Title 35 is not very specific with respect to the details regarding implementation of its directives. Notice that 35 USC 112 only states that a claim is necessary, but does not provide any information on the structure or format of the claim or claims. It is, therefore, necessary to turn to Title 37 of the CFR to expand upon what is actually required. The basic section that deals with claim requirements is 37 CFR 1.75.
Patent terminology can be daunting at times, making it quite unapproachable for a novice inventor to understand what is really going on and what options are available in terms of filing a patent application. Take for example the various types of national patent applications that one can file. A national patent application means a U.S. application for patent that was either filed in the Patent Office under 35 U.S.C. 111 (i.e., directly with the USPTO as a domestic U.S. patent application), or which entered the national stage from an international patent application after compliance with 35 U.S.C. 371 (i.e., initially filed as an international application invoking the benefits of the Patent Cooperation Treaty).
A patent for an invention is the grant of a property right to the inventor, issued by the United States Patent Office. The right conferred by the patent grant is, in the language of the statute and of the grant itself, “the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling” the invention in the U.S. or “importing” the invention into the U.S.
In order to obtain a patent in the United States it is necessary to file a US patent application. One can either file a design patent application (which covers the way something looks, but not the way it functions), a plant patent application (to cover asexually reproduced plants) or a utility patent application. The utility patent application covers what most people refer to as an invention; namely devices, methods, compounds and software, for example. From this point forward we will limit our discussion to utility patents and utility patent applications.
In order to obtain a utility patent one must file what is referred to as a non-provisional application or a non-provisional utility application. It is called “non-provisional” to distinguish it from a provisional patent applications. This distinction between a provisional patent application and a non-provisional patent application became necessary in 1995 when the Patent Office first allowed the filing of provisional applications. A provisional application is one that essentially allows you to file and hold your place in line for 12 months. You can file a provisional application without many of the formalities required for a non-provisional application because the Patent Office will not review provisional applications.
How to Patent an Invention Idea | Moving from Idea to Patent
By now everyone has undoubtedly seen the late night television commercials, and the online ads offering to help you patent your invention idea. Despite what these advertisements suggest, you cannot patent or protect an idea, but don’t despair. The idea is the first critical step toward being able to obtain a patent, and in my experience many inventors think they only have an idea and are not yet at the invention stage when, in fact, they really do have an invention that could be protected.
In order to get from where you are to where you want to be you will need to move from idea to invention and ultimately to a patent application, but the idea gets the ball rolling. But in order to get that ball rolling what you need is a strategy to help you move past the idea and learn to describe your idea with enough specifics so that it no longer is what the law would call a “mere idea.” In a nutshell, if you can describe your idea with enough detail you don’t have an idea, what you have is an invention, or at least the makings of an invention. For example, an idea is this: I want to catch mice. An invention is a mousetrap.
It is critical for inventors to document and expand upon any idea. If you continually add more details you will at some point cross over the idea/invention boundary and be squarely on the invention side of the line, which is the goal. What you want to do is explain your idea, as well as any and all aspects and alternatives associated with your idea. This will then get you toward approaching the point where it becomes specific enough for it to be considered an invention. When you reach this point you have something that can be protected and patented.