There really is no one-size-fits-all approach to inventing that can be claimed to be a road-map to success that will work in all cases. Notwithstanding, there are certainly a number of things that can and should be done early in the inventing process if an inventor is going to pursue inventing as more than a hobby. I continually preach to inventors the need to follow what I call a “business responsible” approach, which is really just my way of counseling inventors to remember that the goal is to not only invent but to hopefully make some money. Truthfully, the goal is to make more money than what has been invested, which is how the United States Congress defined “success” in the American Inventors Protection Act of 1999. The odds of being successful with one of your inventions increase dramatically if you engage in some simple steps to ensure you are not investing time and money on an invention that has little promise.
In July I wrote Describing Your Invention Completely in a Patent Application, which focused on the type of information you want to include to capture the full glory of your invention. This article is a follow-up to that, focusing this time on what the law requires and why, concluding with suggestions to help in breaking through the idea and getting to something more tangible. Reading these two articles in conjunction should give a more complete understanding of what is required and how to get from idea to patentable invention.
I start this tale observing a central reality: Inventors are creative people who observe a problem and envision a solution. Practically anyone can be an inventor because the first step on the path to inventing is the generation of an idea. Unfortunately, ideas cannot be patented and for many individuals the path to invention stops right there. But it doesn’t have to stop there. Frequently you just need some help collecting thoughts and a little push in the right direction. In fact, many people are surprised by what is required to be an inventor and have an invention that is capable of being patented.
Over the years I have worked with many inventors as they seek to move forward with their inventions. As a patent attorney it is no great surprise that the overwhelming number of individuals I have worked with are interested in filing a patent application and ultimately obtaining a patent. Filing a patent application necessitates have drawings to include in the application, but patent drawings are not the only type of “drawings” that an inventor should be considering. Patent illustrations are wonderful for a patent application, but they don’t always do the invention justice if you are trying to capture the attention of a prospective licensee, or if you are trying to convince a buyer to place orders or sell the invention in their store.
Simply stated, patent illustrations and other types of invention drawings, such as 3D renderings and photo realistic virtual prototypes serve different purposes. For example, take a look at the figure below, provided courtesy of Enhance Product Development, a product development company with a great deal of experience licensing and developing products in consumer markets. The patent illustration is on the left, and a branded, photo realistic virtual prototype is shown on the right. Which do you think would better capture the attention of a prospective licensee?
If you want to license your invention for royalty payments, you have to deliver more than a “me too” product. Prospective companies will demand that your product exceed their standard profit goals in order to pay royalties, which represent increased expense.
Many inventors believe the way to get a company interested in their inventions is to write a letter – and then hope they receive an invitation to begin negotiations. This seldom happens.
Your licensing quest should begin by phoning and asking for your prospect’s invention submission guidelines. Know that many times unpatented inventions, or inventions without at least a patent pending, will not be accepted.
Licensing your invention is a lot easier if you can show that it’s selling. That means you have to produce a small quantity of your product. Nice idea – until you learn that a plastic injection mold costs $25,000.
Now what? Fortunately, there are options. You just have to know where to look.
Small-quantity manufacturing lies between rapid prototyping processes and volume production. To discover the processes in the low- to mid-quantity range, visit www.jobshop.com. Also search —job shop shows — on Google.com for contract manufacturers, there were about 1,000 references last time I looked.
You have entered the innovation market taking your first steps. You had an idea, which matured to become definite enough to be characterized as an invention. Now what do you do? Many inventors will find a patent attorney or patent agent that they will work with, and still others will try and represent themselves. Representing yourself can be a dangerous undertaking because drafting a patent application and engaging in patent prosecution (i.e., working the patent examiner to identify patentable subject matter) can be a lot more difficult than it otherwise seems. There are many pitfalls and archaic rules to navigate. But even if you are going to choose to work with a patent attorney or patent agent you should do whatever you can to understand the tasks associated with obtaining a patent. The more informed you are as an inventor the better the resulting patent. The more you know the better the information you can provide to your patent attorney or patent agent, which only makes for a better, stronger, more detailed and broader patent once issued.
One big mistake I see inventors make frequently relates to understanding the full scope of their invention. This is not to suggest that inventors do not understand their invention, quite to the contrary. In my experience when an inventor has an invention (and not just an idea) the inventor will know what they have done in great detail. Sometimes there is a challenge to convey everything to the patent attorney or patent agent, but the inventor has that information it just needs to be liberated from the inventor and put on paper.
So you have an idea and want to get a patent? There are a number of things that you need to know about the invention and patent process that can help you focus your efforts and know what obstacles lay in front of you.
The first thing to know is that you cannot patent an idea. Many people will have great ideas, but will not be able to put that idea into a package appropriate for a patent because there is no invention, only a concept. To be sure, the idea is the all critical first step in the invention process. After you come up with the idea or concept you now need to put together a game plan on how to carry that idea through. The idea and game plan together form what the law calls conception. Conception is an important concept in patent law because in the United States it is the first person to invent that CAN ultimately receive the exclusive rights on an invention.
Like anything in life worth doing, the path of an independent inventor from initial stage idea to making money can be challenging. If it were easy then everyone would be a rich inventor. Luckily for those who have the determination to pursue innovation as a business it is not easy enough for anyone to do, which means that there are opportunities available. One of the keys to successfully making money as an inventor is understanding that those who are successful operate in a business responsible way, and this requires closely monitoring expenditure of funds. While you may want to rush out and build a prototype you need to be careful. There is nothing like the show and tell of a working prototype to lure investors, partners and licensing deals, but inventing is better viewed as a marathon than a 100 yard dash, and preserving capital is absolutely essential if you are going to be successful.
As President of a local inventors group I can’t tell you how many inventors I meet who have spent big bucks to procure a patent but never built a prototype. So they have no idea if the invention really works. Others who have a garage full of product, just collecting dust because they never tested the market before hand. However, most successful inventors and product development companies that I know, start off with a Proof of Concept Analysis BEFORE they start spending money. So if they do it, why not you?
BraBall® the patented bra saver. A project Richardson did for a client.
Ideas are first created in the mind’s eye and then sketched out on paper. Then the creator of the idea quite often cobbles together a crude working prototype to give the idea form and to test the first physical aspects of the idea. This is generally referred to as a “Proof of Function” prototype. This process of testing and improving the Proof of Function prototype goes on until the inventor is satisfied that the prototype works as envisioned.
Today 3 Dimensional modeling is gaining popularity. While it is true that 3D modeling has been around for quite a number of years, it was very expensive and was used mainly by large corporations, at least until recently. In the past 10 years the cost of the 3D modeling software has been drastically reduced, the use of 3D software to control computer controlled milling machines is widespread in manufacturing. As a result 3D modeling is the standard method of communication in manufacturing.
You have an idea, now what? Unless your idea is ridiculously simple, you will probably need to develop it. Almost no ideas come fully formed. They must evolve to approach their final form. Evolution takes place through a process of exploration whereby the inventor plays with the idea and learns. The best method for playing and learning is making a prototype. Making a physical model will often expose overlooked problems and opportunities for improvement. I cannot count the number of times that, in the construction of a prototype, I discovered obvious problems that I had missed. In addition, I discovered many ways to improve upon my idea.
The thought of making a prototype intimidates many people. There are many reasons. The chief reasons seem to be costs, lack of confidence, and the idea that nothing less than perfection will do. The best way to overcome these arbitrary and self-imposed problems is to approach the making of a prototype with the mindset that it is an exploration. It doe not have to be perfect and it does not have to be right the first time. It is an experiment. It does not even have to work the first time. You are probably going to have to make more than one. With this mindset, the costs can be low. Who needs confidence, you are leaning. It does not matter if you screw it up. You will learn something in the process. It does not have to be expensive since it does not have to be perfect.
How to Write a Patent Application is a must own for patent attorneys, patent agents and law students alike. A crucial hands-on resource that walks you through every aspect of preparing and filing a patent application, from working with an inventor to patent searches, preparing the patent application, drafting claims and more. The treatise is continuously updated to address relevant Federal Circuit and Supreme Court decision impacting patent drafting.
Typically blog roll links are not helpful to a website's rank. To give some additional "link love" to those we think you might be interested in reading we have moved our blog roll and links to a dedicated page. Go to IPWatchdog Blog Roll & Links.