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Recently I had an idea that seemed patentable. I've been through the patent process a few times, once successfully, but it has been a number of years. So I wondered what it would cost to run my new idea through the system.

What do you think it costs to use attorneys to work through the patent system and obtain patents for the U.S., Europe, and let's say 16 more of the bigger countries?

Answer: Over $100K.

Sure, I could do the work myself, but who has that kind of time? And what are the chances that I could imitate the tortured language of a patent description well enough to make the patent office happy? Attempting that on my own seems like a big waste of time.

Worst of all, you have to wade into the process before knowing if anyone has already applied for the same patent. It takes about 3-4 years to get a patent, because the patent office is so backed up, and there is an 18-month opaque period in which you can't view any ideas that are in the pipeline ahead of you. I went through this entire process once and in the end the patent office decided that someone else's patent, that had no obvious correlation to my idea, was broad enough to include it.

So what would a small inventor with limited resources do in a situation like this? You could find an investor to go in with you, but I imagine the investor would take half, or more, of whatever the upside was. And where do you go to find such an investor anyway?

This made me wonder if some sort of investment market for patent ideas could be created. Suppose that after the inventor files a provisional application, which is the first part of the process, and not outrageously expensive, perhaps investors could have a chance to fund the rest of the patent process in return for some stake in the outcome.

As things stand, investors can't view provisional patent applications. I assume there is a good reason for that. My guess is that it prevents claim jumpers from leaping into the patent process with a slightly better or broader version of your idea that you hadn't described well enough in the provisional application. I'm not sure that's a good enough reason to keep things secret. Perhaps inventors could have an option of remaining secret and funding things themselves or going public and attracting investors from an early stage.

This would serve as sort of a pre-patent filter for ideas. If an idea is patentable, but investors see little economic value in it, that's good to know before you spend a bundle for a patent. And if investors see great potential, they would bid down the percent of equity they require in return for funding it. In other words, someone might be willing to fund a great patent idea for a 10% equity stake whereas a merely good idea might require 50%.

I'm sure there's a problem with this scheme, or it is already being done in some fashion. Let me know.
 
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Aug 24, 2009
Some guy in Australia requested a patent for the wheel...and the patent was actually granted!
 
 
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Aug 24, 2009
Not battery related, but understanding of our status as moist robots is moving forward, acceptance is still trailing though.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/aug/23/brain-society-politics

 
 
Aug 11, 2009
PATENTS ARE A BAD JOKE IF YOU ARE NOT VERY RICH! A patent is a lisense to sue. and if you are one of the people who do and win, it will be appealed over and over. if they can find anything about its base in some old 1800 paper you lose. if it is shown to work japan will make and not pay a thing. thats what they did with optical fiber cable and long travel back motorcycle rear ends. the guy who had the patent for timed windshied washers was still in court when he was a old man. he must be dead by now. and i think that was the idea.
 
 
Aug 11, 2009
>>Answer: Over $100K.

And that's for one billable hour - 55 minutes of which was performed by a paralegal.
 
 
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Aug 10, 2009
Did it cross your mind how large those people in your gym would be if they =weren't= exercising?
 
 
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Aug 10, 2009
Aside from any possible changes to Patent law, I want to point out what I see as one of the main issues wity the USPTO *application" of the law, and a wished-for solution.

A previous comment mentions a patent for a Thermovoltaic cell, which the inventor (allegedly) can't actually develop. This is (in my opinion) the main problem of the USPTO process, above and beyond the Law itself.
A patent was *supposed* to be a DISCLOSURE - a description that a reader "skilled in the art" (whichever one is relevant) could use to build/use the invention. so, if an application describes an Idea along the lines of "this would be good IF I knew how to do it" is not a disclosure. It is a science fiction story. It should simply have been rejected.

On a complementary track, we need a way to simply have a patent, once granted, invalidated or scope-reduced on the grounds that it should not have been granted in the first place.
A patent has to be (1) Novel (2) Non-Obvious (3) Useful and (4) A disclosure, as described above.

The "Non-obvious" part is, in practice, meaningless and unusable - what is obvious in hindsight, was maybe non-obvious at the time the idea came up (and it is hard to beat the claim "if it was obvious, how come nobody else thought of this?"),
The "useful part is also too fuzzy to use - useful to whom? useful to how many? it will be hard to prove anything
is not useful to SOMEBODY, present or future

Novelty is a little easier - the patent challenger can show "prior art", but this leaves the issue of deciding if the "prior art" shown is or is not in fact relevant to the patent - and usually each side will bring experts who would show, without doubt, that it IS and IS NOT relevant. (To every PhD there is an equal and opposite PhD")

That leaves the "Disclosure" part, which I think should be easy. IF the patent holder wants to prove it, he has to find at least one person/firm "Skilled in the art" that can create the invention *using only the information contained in the patent* and nothing else, especially nothing discovered published later

(disclaimer - I am not a lawyer, patent or otherwise, but I have written 10-12 patent applications, oen of which has been granted and the rest are in process, so I may be biased ...)

 
 
Aug 10, 2009
Patent Applications are kept secret for 18 months to protect small inventors. In the past, patent applications were kept secret in the U.S. until they were granted as patents. This allowed small shops and individual inventors to file for patent protection without risking the loss of their trade secrets. If the application was rejected, they could keep their invention a secret and continue to maintain their trade secret rights in the invention.

A few years ago, the U.S. adopted publishing patent applications 18 months after they were filed to bring the US into harmony with much of the rest of the world. When this change was being debated in Congress, small businesses fought to stop 18 month publication because they viewed it as requiring them to decide between trade secret protection and possible patent protection.

The 18 months of secrecy provided by the Patent Office does not limit the ability of an inventor to disclose their invention to others. An inventor is always free to tell anyone and everyone about their invention. So your marketplace could work today.


 
 
Aug 10, 2009
Build it, with extreme amounts of documentation & video recordings, and then then patent it.
If it turns out that your device/methodology/system works, then you have all the information saying that you created it. If someone else comes along and says they have the patent, bullocks to them.

I think the patent system is buggered. It pretty much eliminates the ability of small time inventors to create new things, and hope to make a profit. They either have to do a patent search, like you mentioned, or be lucky enough to create something that is not affected by patents. It leaves the market open for large think tanks to dump out patents, but with little regard as to whether these might help mankind move forward as a species.

... what the hell do I know though?
 
 
Aug 10, 2009
In my opinion the biggest load of BS in the patent system is that people can patent "ideas" that they have, without actually backing up that idea with an invention.

For instance. Imagine a photovoltaic solar cell (converts light into electricity) and then change it up a bit... a thermovoltaic solar cell. A device that changes ambient heat into electricity. It was patented by a business man a long time ago who has created no such device and has neither the ambition nor technical skills to create such a device. This business guy intends to sue the pants off of the "small inventor" who creates this wonderful (and lucrative) piece of technology.

What scientist, therefore, would have any reason to invent it. He would know that his work will immediately be forfeit. Who knows how many patents are out there actively preventing scientists and engineers from developing technologies that would benefit the world.
 
 
Aug 9, 2009
Am I missing something, or did you just describe venture capital? That already exists.

Oh, and throw my hat into the ring with the folks who pointed out that patents don't cost $100k. I've applied for a few and the entire process (with a reputable specialty law firm) was < $10k.

 
 
Aug 9, 2009
When congress and the president are lawyers, the more services are going to need you to have a lawyer and the costs will go up.
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 8, 2009
Patent law isn't necessary. The entire point of patents in the first place was to increase the incomes of inventors thus leading to more inventions. However, this logic is flawed. It costs a lot of money to develop and research new ideas, and you will probably have to use a tool or device that was patented by someone thus making it more expensive. Patents dramatically increase the cost of all products due to a lack of competition, as patents are just granted monopolies enshrined by the US government. Even the generic products you use to research new ideas might have a higher cost do the use of machinery that may or may not have a patent protecting its producer from any real competition or incentive to lower prices. In short, patents may increase the incomes of inventors but they also make it more expensive to invent. So it's a push.

Also, if company B invents and patents something, let's call it a widget, company A has no right to produce a better version of that product, even though it may be a whole different product with the improvements, without incurring massive legal fees or licensing fees. Not to mention all of the productivity that is lost as companies find it easier to sit on a patent and sue others who might compete than to actually get down to the work of developing better products. Every new industry is born in a primordial ooze of innovation and competition until a few fat juggernauts emerge and start waving patents around, then the industry just becomes a labyrinth of legal battles and empire building.

As I said before, granting a patent is the same thing as granting a monopoly, and if you hate corporations and monopolies, well oh boy, you should really hate patents. Corporations force you to buy proprietary brands, and any new competitors have to fight with one hand tied behind their backs. Most allegations of unfair trade practices relate in some way to a company abusing its patent privileges. It seems to me that they do more harm than good.
 
 
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 7, 2009
Sorry Scott but I find you initial straw man ($100K for 16 patents) to be off the wall and inaccurate.

If you are an independent inventor and therefore likely to not be able to afford a huge outlay for patents you would never file in 16 countries. Even the large (unnamed) corporation I worked in in R&D for years with a 1.3 billion R&D budget and very patent savvy seldom filed in more than a few key countries (5-6 max).

I have a patent practice that focuses on small businesses and independent inventors and most of my clients file only in the U.S. And the complete patent prosecution (prior art search all the way to issuance) seldom exceeds $8000. Of course if they go to a large law firm that could easily be $15-20,000. But that is simply not necessary. My clients that have business ideas that they fully intend to take international will have to spend $25-35,000 for the U.S. , 4 European countries, and maybe Canada and Mexico. But they will spend much more than that to commercialize and sell internationally. Filing decisions have to be very strategic. Decide on where 80% of your sles will be and only file there. The only industry that files heavily in many countries is Big Pharm. I guess it makes sense for them - though not sure why.

If you have a patentable idea and are prepared to invest in commercializing it - do some research and find a good technical patent agent -preferably one operating solo or in a small boutique firm. Their overheads are low and their billable rates reflect that. They can get you a good patent (if you have a good novel and non-obvious invention). They cannot represent you in court in case of an infringement - but you get a good patent litigator if that happens. But pray it does not happen. Because that is when a patent really gets expensive - much more than $100,000.

It's fun to be paranoid - but the system is not rigged. I have been practicing before the US patent office for many years. Good inventions can be patented by a good patent practitioner. Happens weekly. Tuesdays to be exact.
 
 
Aug 7, 2009
The main problem with this idea is that it would require you disclose your idea in some form (i.e. publishing it), which would count as prior art and render the patent application without value. Instead you might require you to get potential customers for the idea to first sign an NDA (good luck convincing anyone to do that) or it may lead to others stealing your idea and patenting it as if it were theirs.

In other words, not very practical to do any of that.

Of course the whole point of patent applications being expensive is that you should have some economic reason to file it to begin with (otherwise the system would drown in excessive amounts of any guy's brain farts). The main problem with the current system is the cost of challenging bad patents which leads to large corporations taking a lot of risk filing bad patents since they know most will be accepted, which in turn provides them with legal 'protection' (mafia style) from new parties on the market and competitors.
 
 
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 7, 2009
My experience has been that big companies...and in turn fat lawyers...are the ones who score from anyone's ideas. They have rigged the game so they can squash average Joes & Janes.
 
 
Aug 7, 2009
My bigest problem with the patent system is that scientific knowledge is hampered by the patent systems. Also Too bad there aren't more Benjamin Franklins out there giving ideas away. Actually i think it would be a good thing if there were a database or agency you could log scientific ideas or inventions built from those ideas. that would be automatically excluded from patent - maybe something voted on by a large scientific body.

Also, why patent something if he country you didn't patent it in steals and uses your patent?
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 6, 2009
Scott,

Great idea. Most of the invention market mentioned, like Intellectual Ventures, only take you seriously if you
already have a GRANTED patent, no provisional filings. The reason is that, at that early stage, there is enormous risk that your patent will either be rejected, or the claims will be significantly reduced in scope due to prior art. By the same token, the value of the patent application is lower than a granted patent, which would be reflected in the investment scheme you're proposing. So I do believe your idea is original and good.

I taught myself to speak and right patent legaleze. I've drafted and filed a number of EU and US patents, using attorneys only to submit the filing and keep my informed of all the due dates. This cuts the costs down very significantly. Naturally, fees like filing fee, search fee, etc., are unavoidable. In my case, what I do is to market the idea without getting into the implementation details in the patent application text (see e.g. http://www.emergentsurfaces.com). That way, I attract interest to my patent applications even before they are published, let alone granted (I do, however, wait until there is an official search report available to give me confidence that there is no relevant prior art that will invalidate my application).

I see only one complication in your idea. It will be necessary to sell "parts" of the patent rights in question, so the inventor keeps a large share while smaller shares are distributed amongst investors. The problem is that patent rights cannot be cut up and sold in shares. So the inventor will have to incorporate a "shell" company, transfer all patent rights to it (including provisional applications), and then sell shares of the company. Incorporating might be a complex process for some, so maybe the service you're proposing should include a recipe for incorporating, or even a service to help the inventor do it.

Cheers.
 
 
Aug 6, 2009
The Economist had an interesting article two weeks ago about the inefficiencies of having a European Patent and individual national patents in EU member countries. You should be able to read it at http://www.economist.com/businessfinance/displaystory.cfm?story_id=14105584.
 
 
Aug 6, 2009
the very subject gives me a headache. when i look at products that have earned patents.. vs. my original idea/product which did not -when i think of the process, the money, the !$%*!$%*! the "rules", .. a big fat joke!

sad but true, the lesson for me: keep your original ideas to yourself.

it is very politically & financially manipulated to serve specific people/companies/industries. in one word: corrupt.

still i dream: "sandra kay. first american female innovator to earn a retro-patent after initially being rejected."

(or something like that) -then hand justice over to God. ~amen.
 
 
Aug 6, 2009
I was just over at Lifehacker.com the other day explaining (with others agreeing) that relatively few people have the motivation/industry to seize your idea and 'steal' it -- merely because it often takes a team of people with financial backing to get the idea even close to being implemented. Having said that, by all means get a patent application (or even a provisional patent application) started before you start talking to strangers about your idea. Once you have thoroughly disclosed the invention to the patent office (and followed up appropriately to deadlines, rejections, etc.), you should 'take your show on the road' and market, implement, sell the invention (or its product).

You raise a good point that there are two big costs in this 1) full blown patent aps in multiple countries are expensive; 2) building your dream device is going to cost a bit (though I know of at least one innovator who is building her invention for below $100 a pop). A solution to this issue is to vet your ideas in a quick and cheap manner. I'm lucky to have have smart friends and family members, who I bounce ideas off of all the time. On the other hand, some ideas are too esoteric for them. One way to decide if you are prepared to do more than pay the entry fee for a provisional patent application is to publish your provisional patent and solicit inputs from the crowd as to whether it is useful and/or will work. I happen to be a big fan of the best known idea-vetting website that has operated continuously for well over 10 years: www.HalfBakery.com. Granted, the ideas presented there are fanciful, and often tongue-in-cheek (e.g. Graphite Shoes; Powdered Milk Turbine; Optical Grep ). But you will not find elsewhere a more dedicated cadre of smart people who enjoy the witty repartee that occurs at the website.

So in short, try a little crowd-sourcing to whittle away at your idea pile and truly separate the cream from the crop. Oh, and sometimes its not a bad idea to talk to a patent attorney. I will occasionally google.com/patent a prospective client's idea just to show him that there is at least one dead-ringer out there. Accordingly, I show him that he might be better served _not_ hiring me to file for a patent that will only get rejected by the USPTO anyway.
 
 
 
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