This week I attended the 15th Annual Independent Inventors Conference at the USPTO in Alexandria, Virginia. During this event I was able to interact with many independent inventors, many individuals that work within the IP community and many employees of the USPTO, including USPTO Director David Kappos, Commissioner for Patents Robert Stoll, Deputy Commissioner for Patents, Peggy Focarino, Chief Communications Officer and Senior Advisor to the Under Secretary Peter Pappas, Administrator of the Inventors Assistance Program John Calvert and Cathy Kirik of the Inventor’s Assistance Program. There were speakers from both the IP community and the USPTO on topics pertinent to this audience, including the inventor of the Post It Note, Art Fry. The attendees were given the opportunity to attend different educational break out sessions that were meant to educate the independent inventor on the entire patent process. Following is an overview of the morning sessions of day one that were open to all attendees.
Day one began with Richard Maulsby from the Office of Public Affairs at the USPTO greeting all of the attendees that was meant to give them an overview of what they could expect from the next two days of the event. All of the morning sessions were open to all attendees followed by break out sessions later in the day where the attendees were able to choose the sessions they wanted to attend. Most of the sessions were repeated throughout the event, so that the attendees would not have to forego one topic session to attend another.
The first session of the day was Louis Foreman, Product Development & Innovation Expert and Founder and Chief Executive of Enventys. During his session, “Great Ideas… What are the Next Steps?” Foreman talked about the Inventors Digest Magazine and Edison Nation, the magazine he publishes and TV show he produces (respectively). Foreman discussed some of the success stories of Edison Nation including Season One’s Jennifer Holloway and her Workout 180™, Season Two’s Michael Diep and his EmeryCat™ Board and Season Three’s Will Howe and Ric Payne with their Mister Steamy Dryer Ball. Foreman talked about how inventors can take their ideas and turn them into money making products but stressed that the execution was key. He also stressed the Risks vs. Rewards that inventors need to keep in mind when getting into the process. He gave the inventors five questions to ask themselves when starting this process.
- What is your product?
- Who is your customer?
- How will the customer react?
- How much money will it take?
- Where will the money come from?
He also explained to the inventors what their “Next Steps” were to be.
- Finding the money
- Protecting your invention
- Developing a proof of concept model (prototype)
- Selling or licensing your product
George A Peters Jr., Founder and President of Lancer 1, Inc followed Foreman. His session titled “So you want to be an inventor? Are you really ready?” focused on 7 things an inventor needs to be prepared for. He asked are you ready for?
- Hard Work
- Spending Money
- Hands in your Pocket
- Rejection (1000 times NO!)
- Family Stress
He then discussed the lifeline of his product The Mitt that he had on each table for all to view. He also gave the inventors questions to ask themselves before getting started.
- Has it been done before?
- Does the market really need or want it?
- Can I protect myself with a patent?
- Do I have the cash resources, the time and the family support?
- Do I have a business plan that leads to profitability?
- Am I thinking with a business mind or an emotional mind?
Michael Lee, VP of the Licensing Executive Society and patent attorney and Director with Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein & Fox, was the third speaker of the day. His topic focused on “Commercializing Intellectual Property Through Licensing.” In his session, Lee told inventors about Licensing Executives Society or LES, including who they are, what industries LES members work in, what types of organizations they work in and what the benefits of LES are. He then went on to talk about Licensing to support and further your present and future business objectives, which requires a Business Plan. His session covered a great amount of information and can later be viewed on the USPTO website. But for now, I will just give you an outline of all that he covered (which is quite extensive as you can see.
- Development and Commercialization Timeline
- Importance of NDAs
- Anatomy of a Confidentiality Agreement
- Consultant Agreements
- Joint Development Agreements
- The affects of a Licensing Agreement
- IP Rights That Can be Licensed
- Types of License Agreements
- Where’s the IP Going?
- What’s being licensed?
- What’s the scope of the grant?
- Outline of a License Agreement
- Grant Qualifications and Considerations
- Terms and Termination
- Assignment of Agreements
- The Anatomy of a License Agreement
- The IP Commercialization Timeline
Michael Diep, the successful inventor of the EmeryCat® Board gave the final session of the morning. The title of the session was Inventors Success and How He Did It and was Diep’s opportunity to tell his successful story. In 2007 at the age of 41, Diep, an Immigrant from Vietnam decided to submit his invention to Everyday Edisons where he became the season 2 winner.
Over lunch we had what I think was quite a treat. Our guest speaker was the Inventor of the Post-It Note who holds a PhD in Organic Chemistry Art Fry who began working for 3M Corporation in 1953. He is also an inducted into the National Inventors Hall of fame. Fry was very entertaining and interesting. He had us all quite engaged as he told his story of how the Post-It note as we know it was born. Fry explained to us that when he would attend his church services, he would often use paper to mark the pages of the hymnals in advance so he could keep up. Problem was, the pieces of paper would often fall out of the hymnals, forcing him to scramble to find the pages that everyone else was already on. He thought wouldn’t it be great to have a book mark that could stick to the pages nor damage the pages of the hymnal?
Fry knew that he would need to come up with a different pattern, related to an old problem. He needed to create a product that could 1. Stick to paper without ripping it, 2. Use regular writing paper with adhesive on it rather than tape such as masking tape and 3. Create something with adhesive that could be developed in a pad form rather than having to be bound at the edges. Luckily, employees at 3M were allowed to use 15% of their time at work to create their own inventions using company resources, knowing the invention would belong to the company. It was during this time that Art expanded on the work of a colleague at 3M, Doctor Spencer Silver, who had developed an adhesive that was strong enough to stick to surfaces, but left no residue after removal and could be repositioned. The molecules in the adhesive used on Post-it® Notes is a microsphere type adhesive. It sticks lightly and repositions because the microspheres limit the amount of surface area contact between the adhesive and the substrate. However, in order to not leave any adhesive residue on the paper after the note is removed, Art developed the adhesive so that the molecules were no wider than the fibers of a piece of paper.
He told the story of how the company kept trying to kill his project. Peel and stick notes was their original name. But at first they did not sell well. In 1977, test-markets failed to show consumer interest. Fry quickly realized that for new products you have to ” sell” the product the customer, because they have not seen it yet and need to be sold on it. In other words, selling by communications. So we went into Boise ID and began selling by sampling. When you sample sell if you can get 50% to buy what you sample that’s a miracle. But within 3 weeks of sampling, 95% of the people who sampled said they buy it and they did!!!!! The 5 city test sales helped us to sell the product and develop the product as well. Then in 1981 he was given a team to create and expand the Post-It brand products.
Fry then asked, “Why innovate?” He stated that Innovation is a popular term now a days, but it’s about to change. New technologies come along every day. But the good thing is that as these things are created there will be more of a need for independent inventors. Inventors like to solve problems but do not want to tend to the business end of things. But successful inventors see the business through. Putting together a business is like putting together a puzzle. There are many different pieces that go into building a business. You have to remember that there are a whole lot of parts that fit into the puzzle. But sometimes there are pieces that don’t quite fit. That is when you need to go to those who are experts on this area and ask them for how to make that piece fit.
Fry explained that there are different types of products that can be developed through that which you have invented. Pioneer products, line additions and product improvements. He reminded inventors that pioneer products take longer to create because they use new materials, new manufacturing and must target whole new markets. For example post it notes. Line additions often require minor modifications, are faster to move to the market and are what he called “non cannibalistic” because they are market extensions of your original product, such as the tape flags, flip charts and printed notes line additions to the Post-it brand. Product improvements improve quality, cost, marketing, product differentiation, and are cannibalistic. For example the creation of masking tape and paint tape.
In order to be a successful inventor, Fry said you need 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration (quoting Thomas Edison). In other words, never give up, ending with, “People that make the product better follow the rules, but those who want to make it different don’t follow the rules and instead create all new products.”