Innovative Product Technologies. Inc. for Inventors trying to break into the invention world
Inventors, Inventions, Inventing Resource News Articles
the Official Invention web site for inventors
Information on Trademarks patents copyrights and more
 
 
 

LAWYERS AND CONSULTANTS CAN HELP AN INVENTOR SURVIVE A DIFFICULT PROCESS...; PATENTING A DREAM

Series: FROM IDEA TO MARKET Sun Sentinel; Fort Lauderdale; Nov 8, 1998; MARCIA HEROUX POUNDS Business Writer;

Abstract:
But inventors and patent experts say that system is in danger as it becomes more difficult for the individual inventor to compete with corporate giants inside and outside the United States for their patent rights.

Patent lawyers and invention consultants say the dangers are many for the individual inventor: Someone could steal an idea and patent it before the inventor can. There's competition with the thousands of patents already on the books and ever-escalating costs of obtaining, maintaining and defending a patent. And, even if all goes smoothly to that point, the inventor could stumble in trying to market the product.

But there is hope: There are experts who can help an inventor take his idea from drawings in a notebook to a patent application to commercialization. New inventors can join networking groups such as the Inventor's Society of South Florida or the United Inventors Association where they can learn from the experienced.

Full Text:
Copyright Sun-Sentinel Co. Nov 8, 1998

First in a series Informational boxes at end of text. Related article on 6G: Unscrupulous marketing companies prey on novice inventors with big promises.

Being an inventor takes an intellectual curiosity, an ability to dig ever deeper in the quest for a solution.

That's the fun part.

Increasingly, the tough part is getting, defending and keeping a patent.

American inventiveness is an important part of our nation's history. The U.S. patent system, which focuses on the individual inventor, has laid the foundation for an entrepreneurialism that has been unprecedented by other nations.

But inventors and patent experts say that system is in danger as it becomes more difficult for the individual inventor to compete with corporate giants inside and outside the United States for their patent rights.

Experts warn that whether an individual holds a patent, the outside world of government, lawyers, competitors -- even an employer -- can squish the unprepared inventor like the proverbial bug.

"We're getting ready for the next battle," said Joanne Hayes- Rines, publisher of Inventor's Digest, a magazine with 20,000 readers. Proponents of a Senate bill to change the patent system "want to treat {inventors} like they're nothing but tinkerers who don't contribute to society," she said.

Hayes-Rines said there are many examples of what individual inventors have contributed to society: the airbag, airplane, ATM, cereal, color film, disposable diaper, frozen pizza, Jacuzzi, laser, pacemaker, respirator, Nike sneaker, video game, snowboard, television and the World Wide Web.

She said the recent bill was defeated, but it is expected to come up again in the next congressional session. The defeated bill would have turned the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office into a government corporation instead of agency, allowed publication of patent filings after 18 months, and give rights to anyone who can prove prior use of the technology -- even if it is patented.

Major corporations and international interests are pushing for the proposal, , Hayes-Rines said.

"The basis of the system would be destroyed," she said. "The whole concept of a patent is that you tell the government what you're doing and nobody can use exactly what you've got for the life of the patent."

Patent lawyers and invention consultants say the dangers are many for the individual inventor: Someone could steal an idea and patent it before the inventor can. There's competition with the thousands of patents already on the books and ever-escalating costs of obtaining, maintaining and defending a patent. And, even if all goes smoothly to that point, the inventor could stumble in trying to market the product.

But there is hope: There are experts who can help an inventor take his idea from drawings in a notebook to a patent application to commercialization. New inventors can join networking groups such as the Inventor's Society of South Florida or the United Inventors Association where they can learn from the experienced.

Experts caution new inventors to stay away from invention promotion companies that require a substantial sum of money up front, and are overly positive about any product's potential, yet deliver little.

Many success stories

Still, there are plenty of success stories to dazzle potential inventors who think they have a great idea for a product.

Take Bill Kitchen.

Kitchen, whose company Sky Fun 1 is now based in Orlando, came up with the idea of the SkyCoaster, a ride now in amusement parks around the world, including Grand Prix in Dania Beach.

Kitchen, an engineer and Air Force pilot, developed what he thought was a better idea than bungee-jumping: a smooth, 100 mph ride that simulates a combination of skydiving and hang-gliding -- without the danger of jumping out of a plane.

Five years later he sold his worldwide patents on the SkyCoaster for $12 million to a Canadian business and is busy at work on other ventures, said his lawyer Rick Martin.

What did Kitchen do right?

"He identified with rifle-shot accuracy a niche market in the amusement business," Martin said.

Kitchen said the biggest challenge for the inventor is to find a market for the product. "Sometimes you can have a very good idea but manufacturers are very slow to embrace your idea. A lot of times you have to be prepared to manufacture and market the product yourself to prove viability."

Kitchen also surrounded himself with experienced advisers. A reputable patent consultant, lawyer or inventor can point the new inventor in the right direction -- or tell him he's wasting his money.

Finding guidance

Pamela H. Riddle, who has counseled and taught classes for inventors, charges a flat fee of $175 for an initial screening. She operates Innovative Product Technologies, a product and technology market commercialization firm in Gainesville. Her company takes a product through the process from an idea to the marketplace.

"It's a way for a client to understand and be educated on what it is going to take to get the product to market. At least 75 percent, I tell them to stay home. I'm doing them a favor," Riddle said.

Of clients she does accept, about 5 percent will end up taking their product to the market, Riddle said.

This is why veteran inventor James C. Hobbs II advises, "Don't get overly enthusiastic."

Hobbs, who has been awarded more than 75 patents, is not discouraging young inventors. He is just warning them not to mortgage the house before they have a marketable product that will produce revenue.

A common complaint is that even with a patent, many inventors cannot afford to protect their product in a court of law.

Hobbs and his father, J.C. Hobbs, both worked -- unknowingly at the time -- on components of the Manhattan Project, which resulted in the atomic bomb. His father, who made a living from his patents, fought the government for rights to his inventions.

"The government did everything in its power to try to take those {patents} away from him," said Hobbs, who now lives in South Florida and at age 79 still is inventing. " {The litigation} went on for 23 years."

Every time the elder Hobbs went to court, it cost $40,000 to $50,000, his son said. A judge eventually ordered the case settled; by then J.C. Hobbs was 90 years old.

J.C. Hobbs' philosophy about inventing is described in Manhattan Project: The Untold Story of Making of the Atomic Bomb by Stephane Groueff: "In mechanics it's like life," Hobbs {Sr.} used to say. "When something begins to bother you too much, and you can't solve it, don't try to find solutions -- just drop the whole darned thing and try to do without it! Sometimes the best cure for problems is not to solve them, but just to drop them!"

Applying his philosophy to pipe problems for the project eliminated the obstacles.

A long road to profit

J.C. Hobbs' whole family inherited his knack for inventing; they have about 200 patents among them, said son Jim Hobbs, who received his first patent at age 18.

Jim Hobbs went on to invent a series of heart catheters and pumps that have saved many lives by enabling doctors to perform open-heart surgery.

But even with Hobbs' background, ability and contacts, the road from workshop to marketplace is long. Hobbs has made a healthy living on his inventions. Yet of the 75 patents he holds, Hobbs said he receives royalties from only 15.

"Only one in 200 {inventions} ever make enough money just to pay continuation of the patent," he said.

Hobbs and others say the U.S. patent system needs reform -- from improvement in the level of expertise in patent application examination to help for the small inventor to survive infringement by big business.

"I think there has to be an overhaul of the basic things. But you don't have to give away the ship," Hobbs said. If your technology or idea leaks out or is stolen before a patent is issued, it is critical the inventor have his original data, drawings and log books to prove he was first to invent, he said.

Riddle said inventors have told her: "I'm only being sued in four states -- that's all." Inventors must remember that "a patent is only as good as how well it is written and how well you can defend it in a court of law," she said.

Martin, a patent lawyer from Longmont, Colo., spoke at the Innovators and Entrepreneurs Expo in Miami recently about a client who found a way to write permanently on glass in multicolors at a low cost.

"Now he's being sued by a $50 billion conglomerate. We're in for a big fight. It has scared away his investors," Martin said.

The inventor, Paul Harrison of Los Angeles, had tried to jointly market the product with the large corporation before he had a patent on the product. He said the company sat on it, instead of pursuing the patent in his name as agreed. The corporation filed a lawsuit claiming it owned the technology.

"They would had been first to market. They would have had a substantial lead on their competitors," Harrison said.

Harrison's TherMark Corp. has made a different arrangement with another manufacturer -- one in which he has more control, he said.

Martin said one solution for the individual inventor in defending a patent is to make a law firm a partner in the venture in exchange for legal defense. Martin and another law firm are equity partners in Harrison's invention.

"We have enough faith that the technology is good," Martin said.

Harrison said the arrangement with the law firms has saved him. "If it weren't for people like Rick Martin and the large law firm in Pittsburgh, I would have absolutely been crushed. I would have folded and they would have gotten away with it."

Research essential

Like any entrepreneur, an inventor needs to do market research to find out if there are buyers for his product. That may range from finding information at the library and on the Internet about the type of product and its competition to a survey of potential customers.

Ann Salamone, vice president of technology and client development for Enterprise Development Corp. in South Florida, said an inventor needs to be a visionary to develop a product line that is strong enough to build a business around.

"Companies that are successful have products there's a real need {for}, not just} a want, in the industry. The need is sufficient to support the goals of the company," said Salamone, who has co-owned a number of high-technology firms that have licensed products with DuPont, 3M, Sensormatic Electronics and other large companies.

"They have analyzed the marketplace, determined what the customer needs and they're going after it. To be successful, inventors need to understand not what they want but what the customer wants," Salamone said.

An inventor's goal, she said, should be to stay focused on the business and not get wrapped up with little details that have no bearing with the product's success.

"Those who are unsuccessful are people who have a dream but do not have implementation skills," Salamone said. "If you have someone who has dreamed up a wonderful project and you can find someone to match them with, it would be a wonderful alliance."

Too often new inventors don't take the time to think through the whole process because they are so excited about their invention, Jim Hobbs said.

Wise inventors should live by Hobbs' slogan mounted on his office wall:
"It's what you learn after you know it all that really counts."

Coming this week TODAY: Invention may be the spirit of America, but the American patent system presents serious challenges to any inventor.

Monday: What you need to know about patents and trademarks, how to license your product, and price and market your invention.

Tuesday: A former band manager is on the verge of success with a simple locking cigarette lighter.

Wednesday: A Boca Raton pharmaceutical saleswoman thinks she can make it big with a versatile dining chair cover.

Thursday: A couple moves their company from Connecticut to Florida to develop a bionic dolphin.

Friday: Two brothers and a father-son inventing team come together to sell a digital sound-enhancing system for movies, Internet and CDs.

Sub Title:
     [Broward Metro Edition]
Column Name:
     ENTREPRENEURS
Start Page:
     1G

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner.

 
We help inventors get their inventions seen, protected and marketed

East Coast Location
The Executive Center 4131 NW 13th Street
Suite 220, Gainesville, FL 32609 USA
Phone: (352) 373-1007 | FAX: (352) 337-0750
Northwest Location
Box 817 Glengary Bay Road
Sandpoint, Idaho 83864 USA
Phone: (208) 265-5938 | FAX: (208) 265-4482

Copyright © 2012 All rights reserved .

Inventor information resource