As discussed in the comments section last time, the problem with my Mom’s and Grandmother’s “invention” back in the late 1980s was that it wasn’t an invention. It was just an idea, which cannot be patented.
All patents start with one, of course.
Dog waste on the streets of any big city, like New York, is a very special problem in the summer time, when the city becomes a tropical “paradise,” albeit with world-class dining and entertainment, together with daily bus tours. Before the “pick up after your pooch” laws were enacted some 15 years ago, the heat could “cook” the waste, rendering the streets virtually unpassable to pedestrians. Except for real New Yorkers, of course!
As one reader, or expert, commented two weeks ago, dog waste will naturally decay into dust. But this process can take weeks, which would seem like centuries to New Yorkers. The public interest is to get rid of it instantly. It would be possible, for example, to torch it with flame throwers, but this could introduce new, stranger, potentially unsafe possibilities.
An alert reader even brought my attention to the 2004 movie, “Envy,” starring Ben Stiller and Jack Black, where the miscreant protagonists stole this very idea from my Mom and Grandmother. My Mom is unable to sue the producers, however, because, as I wrote above, ideas are not patentable. Even humorous ones.
As explained by my Dad, patent attorney Bernard Olcott, to my Mom and Grandmother, the next step for the ladies to have undertaken in their pursuit of a lucrative patent – had they had the desire and the stomach for it – would have been to hire a chemist. His job would have been to discover the elusive chemical compounds that could quickly interact with dog waste, turning it into non-offensive dirt within minutes. Alternatively, my Mom or Grandmother could have raised some VC (Venture Capital) money, and then hit the lab themselves – if only they knew what they were doing in there.
This could have been my Mom!
Hopefully, they would have left the wine bottle outside the lab. Otherwise, I would have feared for their personal safety.
It is conceivable that large chemical companies would already have patented such compounds. That could have represented a big problem to my dear “inventors,” and just have might rendered the whole project unproductive financially.
Another possible pitfall: imagine if they had gotten a patent and brought their product to market after spending thousands of dollars, only to be shut down by a ban on aerosol products! There are no guarantees – even for a good idea! In the movie Envy, the “Vapoorize” spray was found to be toxic.
Let me now present you with some contrasting information about real patents and economic potential.
Without further ado, I present to you Bernard Olcott’s “Hierarchy of Patent Wisdom.” These pearls were explained directly to me and to others countless times. Potential inventors out there, please be guided accordingly!
1. Make a working prototype of your idea. This is what stopped my Mom and Grandmother. And remember, perpetual motion machines are not patentable! A friend of mine recently came up with one of these; he even cited Nikola Tesla in his proposed Prior Art. Luckily for my friend, he seems to have forgotten about it already.
2. Hire a patent attorney in the jurisdiction of your choice. Many prefer to file in the United States, even if they are from Canada or elsewhere, due to the higher perceived quality and regard for a US patent, as compared to their country of origin (like Canada¹).
3. Manage your cash outflows by launching an initial patent application in a cheaper location. For example, Dad was very fond of mentioning The Bahamas as a locale suitable for affordable legal outlays – since patenting fees there are a fraction of what they would be in the US. In this way, an inventor can receive a Priority Date for his/her invention – the date on which their invention receives a governmentally sanctioned monopoly. All subsequent patent applications in the US, European Patent Office, and elsewhere would reflect that very same initial Priority Date.
To give you some solid examples of good patents worthy of Venture Capital funding, consider the following two:
1. A patent application for a software application that extracts data from pdf documents and web sites. The captured data is then structured intuitively (meaning graphically), shared, and presented in a personalized and captivating manner. This patent has obvious applications in the financial industry, i.e., among analysts who need to send information to investment committees, investors, or the press. This company has not only a working prototype, but some paying customers in its home market. It is actively seeking investors based not only on the promise of the software’s utility, but also on some solid results. This is a great example of how to go about it.
2. Another software patent, this one granted by the US Patent Office and now in force. This covers the detection and elimination of spam in e-mail software and servers. This patent would make a great addition to any firm holding a portfolio of such patents.
Please contact me privately if you would like to learn more about these two.
This discussion started with the need for patent data as explained in my post “PATENTS, MANAGEMENT, AND PROJECTS.” There I was with 3 separate Patent Management Systems in need of product and systems testing. The solution was to load them all with a list of patents.
Bob Gerhardt always loaded 2 systems with his signature test patent (he wasn’t really involved with the Mac version). The title of his test invention was always “Peptide.” It was the blandest and most boring patent description imaginable. Yawn. To the extreme!
But it was useful as a template for me, a non-patent attorney, eager to get involved in systems support and sales.
Accordingly, I created 20 or so patents, just to load up the screens so that Bob’s “Peptide” could be searched for in demonstrations to prospective customers. Naturally, I had to resist that temptation to title inventions as “Dog Shit Aerosol,” or “Articulable Shoulder Puppet.” I typically chose titles that reflected Dad’s electrical engineering background. “Amalgamated Circuit Breaker,” and things of such yore.
I mentioned to Bob one day as we were headed out the door to demonstrate his Visual system, “Why don’t we use the Chief Patent Counsel’s name as the inventor for your ‘Peptide’ patent (in the system)?”
“That’s a good idea,” he shot back. I made the change in the car as we rode out together. Software demos could always use an extra hook or three.
¹ – This was a joke. Of course, Canada is high quality!
If the invention is made in the US it must be first filed in the US unless a license to file abroad first is granted, such as filing first in the Bahamas as your father suggested.
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Thank you Jace. The license to file abroad is available from the USPTO and must be done before filing abroad, correct? Is it a mere formality?
Interesting article James! You make the Bi-Zinn-Tine world of patents fun to learn. Good luck on the prospecting!
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