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Thread: When patents don't work

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    just me duncan drennan's Avatar
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    When patents don't work

    In my line of business (developing ideas into electronic products) the whole issue of intellectual property often comes up. People are protective of their ideas and that is fair.

    Sometimes though we place an unrealisticly high value on the idea, instead of focussing on turning that idea into a reality and solving the problem that caused the idea. So people end up investing too much time in protecting their idea, and too little making it happen. By the time you've built your legal fortress, somebody else has already taken the market.

    Patents are important and have a place in product development, but actually making something important has a far bigger impact on the world. Important does not have to be big or complicated – important solves problems (even small ones) and improves our lives.

    There are some problems with trying too hard to protect your idea,

    1. It may not be worth protecting

    Many ideas are not patentable, as prior art already exists. Non–patentable ideas still have value – great beats good, remarkable beats mediocre. Improving on existing products, or turning old ideas into real products are important functions which need to happen continuously.

    2. It slows things down

    While you are busy building a legal fortress around your idea other people are busy building working versions of theirs. Having a market share and being ahead of everyone else may matter more than having the legal rights to an idea which has passed its sell by date.
    Read the rest of my thoughts in the blog article, "Fast ideas, slow patents"

    What do you guys think? Is protecting the idea more important than implementing it and owning the market share?
    [SIGPIC]Engineer Simplicity[/SIGPIC]
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    Full Member derrickm's Avatar
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    Duncan,

    You might like to take a look at Don Lancaster's Patent Avoidance library:-
    http://www.tinaja.com/patnt01.asp

    Don wrote a number of classic electronics books, including the CMOS Cookbook

    His site is packed with interesting stuff about business, health, pseudoscience, book-on-demand publishing, PIC microcontrollers and more.

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    Site Caretaker Dave A's Avatar
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    In the back of my mind I always remember the wheelbarrow. This was only patented ages after it was first invented/put to common use.

    It would really bug me if I invented something which was patentable, someone else patented it and I ended up having to pay royalties.

    If you don't go to the trouble of patenting, what protection do you have from this sort of scenario?
    The trouble with opportunity is it normally comes dressed up as work.

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    just me duncan drennan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dave A View Post
    In the back of my mind I always remember the wheelbarrow. This was only patented ages after it was first invented/put to common use.
    I don't understand how that worked, or when it happened, or what laws governed that. The concept of prior art is quite important with regards to patents. If prior art exists then it is not supposed to be possible to obtain a patent. For example, if I published an idea on my blog, and someone then went and tried to patent that, I could use the blog post as an example of prior art and, in my understanding, the patent would not be granted, or would be invalid (i.e. they couldn't force royalties). Never heard about this story with the wheelbarrow though....
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    Site Caretaker Dave A's Avatar
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    I came across it ages ago. Some smart alec discovered the wheelbarrow had never been patented. It had, of course, been in common use before the concept of patents even existed. It had hordes of people scrambling to find other such unpatented treasures at the time.

    I wonder if anyone ever patented the wheel?
    Nah! I'm sure the same smart alec checked that one too.

    Ultimately, there are a number of stories about the first to invent failing to be first to copyright. Steam engine, telephone and aeroplane ring any bells?

    I'm aware of prior art in copyright, but was not aware that it had been extended to patent. Any idea when that was introduced?
    The trouble with opportunity is it normally comes dressed up as work.

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    Silver Member Frankincense's Avatar
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    "By the time you've built your legal fortress, somebody else has already taken the market."

    Some people can only do so much at a time...others are wickedly multitasking.

    Timing and Judgement are key!

    Niether "owning the idea" nor "implementing it" nor "owning the market share" should be able to take precedence over the other ever if we review objectively. I think it depends on the nature of intent, idea and person.

    (1) One could intend to only "protect the idea" in order to solely feed off the royalties from those who eventually "own the market share" if it's your product they are selling. - No practical business operating stress and one can focus on the next idea. Also only cost would be the patenting/copywriting.(Probably for Innovators and Inventors)

    (2) One could forget about protecting it, and move straight on to "implementing"
    - The Dude who needed the wheelbarrow: He probably couldn't care about who "owned" the idea etc, as long he could move his sh&t. Like when you move others ideas into a practical creation.
    (Probably for Farmers and "Engineering Simplicity")

    (3) One could focus solely on "Owning the market share". One pays royalites, but the profit off your sales is serious enough to generate serious income, and it wasn't even your idea.
    (Probably for business people - Franchise owners etc. who want to KFC the whole damn geographical suburb they've been allocated)


    One could do 1, 2 or even all 3 :"Protecting, Implimenting & Owning" the market share - That would seem the most wholistic approach if anyone has a great idea that will result in serious demand.

    The challenge remains to start it from scratch, run it until market saturation, all within an unbeatable timeframe. Any delay on any of the above (3) would be a loss. Allowing the lapse of time to errode it's usefullness to society, or market share while setting up the legalities is the fall of many as you pointed out.

    I'd say efficiency rules...snooze,ya loose...if one has a great idea, simultaneously patent,develop and deploy agressively...

    This is pure theory.

    Did this answer help at all?

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    just me duncan drennan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dave A View Post
    I came across it ages ago. Some smart alec discovered the wheelbarrow had never been patented.
    I have been looking, but can't find any info about that story - any clues?

    My understanding of prior art has always been in the context of patent law. From the wikipedia article,

    Prior art, in most systems of patent law, constitutes all information that has been made available to the public in any form before a given date that might be relevant to a patent's claims of originality. If an invention has been described in prior art, a patent on that invention is not valid.
    Prior art can exist in a few forms, and it is interesting to note what is said on a local patent firm's website,

    Generally speaking, a patent can be filed for an invention that is:
    • new / novel (i.e. not available to the public anywhere in the world by written or oral description, by use or in any other way – anticipating material is known as prior art); and
    • not obvious / inventive (i.e. not obvious to an expert in the field, having regard to all the prior art available).
    So if an invention has been written down, spoken about or put into use in any public form (i.e. not governed by some confidentiality agreement) then prior art exists, which means that it cannot be patented.

    Patents provide really important protection and motivation for people to invent and be innovative, and they should be used to their full extent when suitable.

    There are many instances where patents are not applicable or suitable and in those cases less time should be spent on finding ways to protect the idea, and more time should be spent getting it to market quickly and ensuring that you dominate that market.

    There are plenty of things that need to be done better (everyone can probably find some in their business), and there are profits to be made doing something well. There are also lots of free ideas around. Taking one of those free ideas and making it a reality has more value (to me) than finding legal tricks to try to own the idea.
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    Site Caretaker Dave A's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by duncan drennan View Post
    I have been looking, but can't find any info about that story - any clues?
    Well, it was definitely pre-internet as when I was told the story I was a very young lad indeed. Late 1960's early '70's maybe

    Ultimately, prior art does solve the potential for the problem, though. Frankly it makes a lot of sense too.
    Last edited by Dave A; 14-Jan-09 at 07:41 AM.
    The trouble with opportunity is it normally comes dressed up as work.

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    In my opinion, too many inventors patent their ideas too early on. If the idea is new in February 2012, it is unlikely that someone else will come up with the same idea by April 2012. Immediately start taking steps down the road to market, but resist setting off with a leap to the Patent Office.

    My journey would start with a patent search - try doing this yourself. Next, I would consider sourcing SPII funding for development of a prototype. In parallel, I would engage an industrial designer (subject to a confidentiality agreement) and chat to a few engineering friends (subject to confidentiality agreements). Now you should have a good idea as to: which features of your product: can be protected; whether it works, can be made, and is commercially viable. And, your path to market is clear (e.g. license the patent or manufacture and sell the product yourself).

    Now is the time to patent - you are satisfied that the idea is worth pursuing; you can fully describe your product (as whittled during your journey); and you will likely be closer to a ''money-pot'' in 30 months time - the date when patent costs sky-rocket.

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