“After seven years of validity proceedings, which have cost more than $250,000, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) has invalidated all 12 of my claims covering the Zip-It. How can the USPTO issue a patent with 12 claims and then use the PTAB to neuter my patent?”
The Zip-It drain cleaning tool was an invention that I developed around the year 2000 because I was getting tired of my bathroom drains getting clogged. My daughter Kim didn’t like haircuts and when she would take showers, her long hair would clog the drain and cause the water to back up. I tried to solve the problem by using liquid drain chemicals, plungers and bent coat hangers, all to no avail. There were no products available on the market that provided a quick remedy for clogged drains.
One morning, after dealing with yet another slow-running drain, I went into my garage and found a worn-out plastic sled hanging on the wall. I took it down and my idea was to cut a 24-inch-long strip from it which was narrow enough to fit down the drain, and then I fashioned a handle on one end and cut barbs along each side of the long strip. I took it into the house, stuck it down the shower drain, pulled it out and the amount of hair it pulled from the drain looked like a dead rat had come out of there. The “Zip-It” was born!
The Zip-It is a simple one-piece injection-molded product which is composed as a flexible strip having barbs and then a handle on one end which has an aperture both for finger gripping and for hanging. I searched for products similar this and didn’t find any. My next step was to file for a design patent and a utility patent to cover this device. The product has no assembly: when the Zip-It drops out of the injection-molding machine, it is ready to use.
I took my prototype to a large, big box home supply company and showed it to their plumbing buyer. He was amazed and said that his store would purchase thousands of units if they were available in such large numbers. I licensed my product to Cobra Products, a division of BrassCraft Manufacturing which is owned by MASCO Corporation. Ten years and 12 million Zip-Its later, Cobra’s plumbing sales representative, Doug Cohen, was let go from the company and went to work as the president of G.T. Water. It was at that time that G.T. Water began selling a product that infringed upon my patent for the Zip-It.
Cobra Products filed a lawsuit for patent infringement. G.T. Water then filed for a re-examination of my patent at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to invalidate my patent claims. My licensing agreement with Cobra and BrassCraft was to share equally in the cost of defending my patent. However, Cobra Products elected not to help me in the defense of my patent at the USPTO. I was forced to bear the total cost of that alone. After seven years of validity proceedings, which have cost more than $250,000, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) has invalidated all 12 of my claims covering the Zip-It. How can the USPTO issue a patent with 12 claims and then use the PTAB to neuter my patent? Since this has been going back and forth with the court system, there are now numerous other entities which have engaged in copying and infringing my patented invention.
Defending the patent is only part of this particular battle. I was born with muscular dystrophy and two of my children suffer from this same disability. My family suffers from a form of muscular dystrophy called Facioscapulohumeral Muscular Dystrophy, which is a terrible, progressive disease that requires adaptive equipment to keep us independent, mobile and able to stay in our homes as the disease worsens each year. The royalties I had been earning from licensing my patent have been helping everyone in my family stay independent despite our disabilities. This income had prevented me from becoming reliant on the government for assistance. Because of the invalidation of my patent claims, however, the chances of me being able to continue making an income from this invention are gone. With the loss of this important income, it has threatened the future independence for me and my family.
This is why we need your support to help us restore our patent rights. Please help us in our fight to pass H.R. 6557, the Inventor Protection Act, which has been introduced into the House of Representatives. After a decade of destruction of our patent rights, this bill restores patent rights to inventors like me who own their patents, helping us to continue supporting our families with the money earned from our inventions.