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First Five Steps for Inventor Entrepreneurs (Inventrapreneurs)

February 28, 2010 by · Comments Off
Filed under: Business, Inventor & Entrepreneur Updates, Patent Articles 

The term “inventrapreneur” (for purposes of this blog) means an inventor entrepreneur.  While one might think that an inventor implies an entrepreneur or vice versa, they are not the same.  An inventrapreneur is an inventor who actively screens ideas and does his/her homework on business feasibility.  Below are what I refer to as the “First Five Steps for Inventrapreneurs,” and these are, in part, derived from “The PDMA Handbook of New Product Development” edited by Kenneth B. Kahn (2006 Second Edition).  Note steps 2 through 5 do not necessarily address legal questions, rather they are targeted at the potential for commericialization.  This article is not meant to provide legal advice.  It is meant to educate the inventrapreneur that there are many steps in bringing a product to market and obtaning patent protection (and/or other intellectual property protection) are only part of the process.

1.  Idea Screening — ask whether this is a new idea, is it useful, and is it something with a Wow! Factor or something that is cheap (i.e., significantly reduces price paid by consumer).   This stage is often referred to as “the reason to believe”.  This step typically involves consultation with a patent attorney or patent agent to conduct a search to identify and understand your technology with your competitors’ technology.  There are two things that that inventrapreneur needs to know — is it something that can be protected with a patent and how crowded is the market with competing patents or other publicly disclosed technology.

2.  Initial Market Assessment — conduct a quick business feasibility and market study.  Planet Eureka’s Merwyn Report is one quick assessment, and Department of Commerce has previously provided grants for independent inventors.

3.  Preliminary Technical Assistance — conduct a technical appraisal that seeks to ask how much does it cost to manufacture, can it be done, and can it meet quality standards?

4.  Detailed Market Study, Market Research & Consumer Research — conduct some market research to identify your ideal consumer and conduct market research to get feedback on your invention before you go into production.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and it is better to get this data before spending more money.

5.  Business & Financial Analysis  — conduct a business model prior to development.  This is an area where SCORE volunteers can be very helpful (as well as some of the earlier points).

Try having some fun and think about the First Five Steps like entering and competing in a Science Fair.   One of the biggest differences in real life is that it costs money.  And, now for one of the biggest similarities, copycat inventions in real life are like getting caught with your big brother or big sister’s project that was presented several years earlier.

So, now all you inventrapreneurs, it’s time to go get started on your homework.   Happy Inventing & Incubating!

Pro Bono Legal Aid for Independent Inventors

Imagine if each registered patent attorney and patent agent provided pro bono services to independent inventors.  Who would administer legal aid to independent inventors?  Who would decide which independent inventors received help?  Who would pay the USPTO fees?  And, if a registered practitioner filed a patent application, would that practitioner be obligated to handle prosecution?

In November 2009 at the 14th Annual Independent Inventors Conference, USPTO Director David Kappos addressed independent inventors and expressed that the USPTO was exploring pro bono legal services for inventors.  Since November, we’ve heard very little follow up on the USPTO’s desire to foster a pro bono patent program.  However, I’ve noticed other changes that are making a significant impact for independent inventors.  One inventor had a nonprovisional patent application filed in July 2009.  It was not part of the pilot program nor did it have a petition to make special.  What the patent application had was an inventor who had a dream and a plan to deliver the dream to the public.  The inventor started to repeatedly call the USPTO and finally was able to get in touch with a SPE who was genuinely interested in the success of independent inventors.  The SPE talked with the Primary Examiner who then negotiated an amendment and sent out a Notice of Allowance before January 1, 2010.   Imagine the Patent Office propelling an independent inventor’s dream?!

Just like an invention, the pro bono patent legal services program needs to be nurtured and developed.  And like prototypes, there will be kinks to work out, clients that may not always be satisfied, and of course, funding challenges.  However, there will also be inventors who are empowered to start the innovation journey with patent protection.   So, here’s a toast to recognize new possibilities for independent inventors to protect their dreams and to stay tuned for more information about possibilities for pro bono patent legal services.