Call Rick Martin, Patent Attorney
|Copyright 1992/2002 Rick Martin|
|Mr. Martin received his J.D. in Law from Nova University in 1986 after fifteen years of marketing experience in the computer industry. His intellectual property law firm handles legal matters regarding patents, copyrights, trademarks, unfair competition, franchises, general corporate procedures and litigation.
WHAT IT IS
A patent is a property right granted by a country to a qualified inventor. Qualifications for an inventor may depend on nationality or reciprocity. The property right granted takes the form of the right to exclude others from using, marketing or selling the invention in the grantor country for a set period of years. The period in America is 20 years from the date of filing and it is NOT renewable. Since a property right can be sold or licensed in whole or in part, a fortunate inventor of, say, a new hands-free telephone headset can invent once and live off the proceeds for 20 years. Three inventions should more than cover one adult lifetime. Yet few inventors find this life of ease.
HOW TO OBTAIN A PATENT
The procedures to obtain and enforce U.S. patents have been honed to a bureaucratic Mount Everest. First, the inventor pays about $750.00 for a search at the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) for similar inventions. Some inventions stop here. An invention cannot be obvious in view of existing inventions (called prior art). A soupspoon might be obvious if a tablespoon exists in the prior art. Yet the small difference between inventions amazes newcomers. My favorite illustration of small increments is a beach towel with spikes in the corner to hold it down in the wind! One might think the anchoring means for a pup tent would render this patent obvious. It didn’t!
PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS OF CONVERTING A PATENT INTO MONEY
The proud new owner of his spiked beach towel waited 1-½ to 2-½ years to obtain his patent and generally paid at least $5000.00 in legal fees and filing costs for his little monopoly. When he strikes out to the market with his invention, his real problems begin. They are: 1) getting money; 2) mounting a court challenge against a blatant infringer; 3) mounting a court challenge against an engineered replica of his invention that simply doesn’t infringe yet benefited from his patent’s ideas.
My advice to an entrepreneurial inventor is simply this. Find a need and fill it! Don’t collect patents for unmarketable commodities unless your ego needs the decorative wall coverings. If you’ve found a market niche, ask a patent lawyer how best to protect it. Patents, copyrights, and trade secrets make up your choices. Definitely invest in the best protection available before showing your wares to anybody except your dog. Trust nobody, especially big corporations with lawyers, engineers, and experience.
As in most business endeavors the success of a new patent is heavily dependent on the proper marketing. An entrepreneur with a new dishtowel to help the housewife has only a tiny chance of receiving any financial rewards for his inventiveness. How can his limited budget communicate his product to 50 million housewives? His alternative to self-marketing is a license agreement with a large corporation. Extremely few patents are picked up on the outside by large corporations. One major marketing factor is this-if the corporation must pay a royalty for a patent on top of its manufacturing and distribution costs, how can it compete with an entrenched competitor who invents a competitive model on his own? Other reasons large corporations avoid entrepreneurial entanglements include the legal hassle and pride (the not invented here syndrome).
There are now over 4,676,000 U.S. patents registered in Washington. About 42% of new applications are from overseas. This compares to only a trickle of overseas applications in 1945. The American entrepreneur faces enormous competition from Japan, England, Germany, and other nations. 115,000 new applications are processed each year. A large percentage of new patents never mature into a product and reach the market. Many large corporations never patent their ideas but use secrecy, trade secrets and marketing might to establish mini monopolies. Eighty percent of new businesses started in America fail within five years. Venture capital investors don’t provide the first one to two hundred thousand dollars of seed money to start a firm. With few exceptions, they invest only after leaders have left their jobs, started a new firm, created their product and proven the marketplace. This usually means several very lean years for entrepreneurial leaders trying to start a business. Sparse federal Small Business Loans are being cut even more. 90% of the new jobs in America are in service industries that do not involve new products. Service industry jobs such as fast food retailing, pay only 1/3 the average pay of manufacturing industries. Cost of living increases have forced over ½ of America’s mothers with children under six to work. Because of working parents, over 1/3 of America’s children under 14 need day care centers that don’t exist. Half of our inventive engineers work on federally financed Pentagon projects. These projects now face massive cutbacks with the fall of the U.S.S.R.
IDEAS FOR CONGRESS
Congress spent over $300 million to create a 30 trillion byte (30,000,000,000,000) automated patent computer database. The goal is to speed up and improve patent processing in Washington. Here are some alternative uses for some of this money:
The multinational technical competition growing in today’s world is reshaping the American workplace. We haven’t really yet felt the impact of China’s entrance into free trade with the west and she holds 1/5 of the world’s population. America’s largest corporations have shrunk by 3 million jobs in our economy the past ten years. The Chrysler bailout so far has been a noteworthy federal intervention into private industry. America’s small inventor needs government help. We need to be inventive at all levels of government to provide the best climate to cultivate our homegrown inventions into our hometown factories.