View of Imagineering: Fringe Science & the Lone Inventor -
The Creative Person
- Searching for New Ideas
- Steps in Product Development -
Ideas Lost & Found
Products sometimes dies before they ever have a chance to live. Perhaps the product failed after very a limited production. Or maybe the
inventor lost his patent rights by not filing within the golden year, (more about that below). Perhaps the inventor ran out of money before the invention had a chance to succeed. Possibly
the inventor was better at inventing than running a business.
|There must be a thousand such sad stories repeated each year. But, maybe the basic idea still might be worth something, if only the person who has the
information would step forward. Perhaps some kind of clearing house could be set up to give the idea some new life. Maybe the service would give the idea owner something for his troubles.
|As an example of how an idea could be lost, which actually happened to me, let's describe a fictitious story of an inventor that ran into some bad
luck. Let's say an inventor develops a new light source. It is a fantastic light source. It is cheap and it puts out more light with less power than any other type of light. The inventor was proud
of his idea. He had spent thousands of hours of his spare time and many thousands of his own money developing it. Being self employed, he knew he the idea and eventual profits were all his.
. It was time to act.
|OK, he does the usual first task in protecting hisidea by insuring its patentability. He hires a good patent lawyer to perform a patent search. About
$1000 later the search gives his invention a clean bill of health by revealing no patented inventions like it.
Running short of cash he delays starting the expensive patent filing process and begins looking for a buyer. Excited and armed with several working prototypes and
the proof that his light is unique, he begins the search for a buyer. Through a friend of a friend he finally meets an interested party. After seeing the new light the company agrees to sign the
usual legal non-disclosure forms and begins discussing additional details with the inventor.
The non-disclosure form forces the potential buyer to hold all the information on the invention in confidence. They love the invention. It was just what they
wanted. But, before they finalize all the details of buying the rights to the invention they insist the inventor allow them time to conduct some of their own tests on the new product and some time
to review its market potential. With advice from his lawyer, the inventor gets the prospective company to sign an exclusive agreement. The document gives the company a six month period to evaluate
the invention prototypes. During the evaluation period, the inventor agrees not to try to sell the invention to any other company. Such agreements are called "first right of refusal" contracts.
For his troubles and to bind their contract, the inventor gets a few thousand dollars from the company.
|The inventor feels great. He's sure that his new light source will be found to be every bit as good as his own tests indicate. With some of the money
he obtained from the exclusive agreement he begins the process of patenting his invention. He meets with his patent lawyer and starts getting the necessary detailed disclosures drawn up and he
hires a good draftsman to help generate the invention illustrations. But, just before the deadline of the exclusive agreement. Something completely unexpected happens.
The prospective buyer is indicted on stock manipulation. They could have gone bankrupt or burned to the ground and it would have had the same effect. The buyer
didn't buy the rights to the invention. Despondent, our poor inventor went into mourning. Having counted on selling his brainchild he had let his own business slip. It was not enough to put him
out of business but enough to force him to divide his efforts. Desperately he looked for more work and another buyer for his invention. But, with bills to pay, bank loan payments to make and
mouths to feed, the filling fees for patents on his baby took second place. Soon, it was too late. The magic golden year was up. His patent lawyer, having better things to do than to wet nurse a
poor inventor, informed him of the deadline, but could not help raise the necessary money to finish the task. Sure, our poor inventor could still try to sell his invention after the golden year,
but without any patent protection it was going to be very difficult. Maybe someone saw enough of his invention to develop a similar one for themselves. How would he be able to fight them?
|There are hundreds if not thousands of potentially good ideas lost, possibly forever, each year. Through no one person's fault an invention is
developed, then falls into some legal crack that hides its existence, never to emerge again. Maybe someone saw it. Maybe someone knows of a poor old inventor that had a wonderful invention but is
now selling vacuum cleaners door to door to support his family. Maybe you saw a neat invention demonstrated to you at a party. Really good ideas seem to have nine lives. They seem to somehow
survive even if everyone and everything around them disappear. But some potentially good ideas die at a very young age. How can we prevent this from happening again? Perhaps the only way is to
change the patent laws so the inventor could still obtain patent rights if the device was never developed or sold.
|Comment: The patent laws view the product evaluation effort, even if done privately by the potential
buyer, as a public disclosure of the invention. Even if the evaluation was done behind locked doors, to the patent office, it is like the invention was being demonstrated on some TV program. So,
as soon such an effort starts, the inventor has one year to file for a patent before the invention rights become public.
I would like to see some changes made to the present patent laws, giving the inventor a second try at patenting an invention. Perhaps a grace period. Maybe after a
period of time, if no similar devices have been patented, he could file. Call it a amnesty for lost ideas.