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    Tuesday, November 25, 2008

    So I'm an inventor, what now?

    You have invented the new widget. You have decided to seek patent protection. What now? Does the money just come when the invention is patented, or the application is filed? Does corporate America send you green mail when you notify them of your impending rights? Not hardly.

    Patent attorneys are frequently asked for direction on how to take the invention from the patent stage to the market stage, but the fact is, patent attorneys are generally not business people and have little, or no, marketing and product development sense. Ultimately, the inventor turned budding entrepreneur either needs to be a business person, including marketing and financial savvy, become such a person, or hire/partner with such a person.

    But first things first. How to go from invention to product. If you can, make a prototype. If you cannot, make a drawing. Here, the patent application can come in handy because if your patent attorney was sharp, he or she would have made sure there would good drawings to help support the patent application. Nice perspective, exploded, and/or perspective-in-use drawings can pay dividends, not just in understanding the invention, but in explaining what you want to a product developer. Remember, a picture is worth a thousand words. In either case (preferably after a patent application is filed), take the prototype or drawings (with serial number, title and filing date redacted) to the relevant professional for commercial product speccing (and make sure you use a very good, attorney vetted NDA). Who is the relevant professional? That depends on the art area. There are tons of plastics, machine shops, rotomolders and design shops around, many providing services specifically to inventors. If you need help, start with the Inventor's Digest magazine which has a host of ads and classifieds from such professionals, and which also has useful articles. You can also go to your State small business center. In Washington, the State has several Small Business Development Centers with certified business specialists whose very purpose is to help and point you in the right direction. The U.S. Small Business Administration has similar services. Public universities and community colleges also have business departments that can usually send you in the right direction. But there is no getting around the fact that you are going to have to use some elbow grease, make calls, and attend meetings. Remember Edison's adage: Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. This applies equally to entrepreneurship.

    Tuesday, November 18, 2008

    How long until I have patent protection?

    Inventors frequently ask how long will it take before a patent will issue. This seemingly straightforward question, however, is not so straightforwardly answered. First, you might not get a patent. Your claims might be rejected and you might decide to abandon the application. Or you might appeal to the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences (which is becoming more frequent) and lose. Or you might seek further appeal at the Federal Circuit, and lose.

    Second, depending on the type of invention for which you are seeking patent protection, the length of time it takes for the examiner to issue a first office action can vary widely. The closely followed patent blog, PatentlyO (, recently summarized in a table the average time to first office action by art area. For example, on average it takes 3.5 years for a first office action for business method patent applications, 3.2 years for computer networks, 2.2 years for machine elements, 1.9 years for amusement devices, and 1.7 years for manufacturing devices. Assuming a first office action allowance (a big assumption), you still would have to pay the issue fees and await issue, at least another 4 to 6 months. But most cases are not allowed on first office action, so there will be a second office action, and perhaps a request for continued examination, and then possibly the appeals mentioned above.

    Third, much more rare, a secrecy order could get slapped on your patent, and you could be denied a patent entirely if granting a patent on your invention is considered a threat to national security.

    When it comes to patenting, therefore, the old adage rings true: most people overestimate what they can accomplish in 6 months, and underestimate what they can accomplish in 5 years---that is, if they stick with it.