Patenting invention calls for careful documentation
October 23, 2012
SAN ANGELO, Texas — Inventions.
Everybody has said, “I wish I’d invented zip lock bags, or liquid paper or sticky notes,” or “If I had only thought of that first!”
In this article I will create a situation, some of which I have experienced with clients, in order to guide you through the beginnings of the patent search.
For sake of a story, this inventor is fictitious, but the invention exists: U.S. Patent # 5,829,103.
The inventor entered my office, quietly reserved at sharing his idea with a business adviser, namely me. This idea for an invention had been simmering, slowly over the years until finally he was ready to seek some guidance on how to pursue it.
All Small Business Development Center advisers and staff are bound by confidentiality which provided the inventor protection for his idea. I asked him if, during the course of his work on this project, he had kept an Inventor’s Notebook to substantiate his work. He said he had not done so, but wanted to know what was required to be written in an Inventor’s Notebook.
I explained the notebook needed to be bound with the pages stitched at the spine and all the pages were to be numbered. At the end of each day that an inventor works on the project, he verbally explains the drawings to a trusted friend. The friend then signs and dates the page. The inventor signs and dates the page. This can serve as the document of origination.
Since this particular inventor had not done this, I recommended he start his Inventor’s Notebook from this point forward. Knowing inventors, I knew this invention was probably the first of many more. He would be well served in the future by maintaining this notebook.
Because he had no written historical data about the invention, I suggested he re-create a timeline, as best he could remember. The timeline would start with the date when he first “thought” of the idea and continue forward to present day. He would need to write down everything he could remember that pertained to this invention.
When he understood this, we began to look at his idea. He had been a carpenter and knew firsthand the need for ready access to his pencil. He had designed a plastic clip device which could be attached to the side or bill of his ball cap.
He proceeded to sketch out his idea for me to see. It consisted of a dual tension clip which would attach to the cap and also hold a round, hex or flat carpenter’s pencil.
He had searched the internet and could not find this type of item available for purchase. Therefore he thought it had not been patented.
As we discussed patents, I introduced him to the United States Patent and Trademark Office website and the Patent Search section: uspto.gov.
This website provides an abundance of information about patents and how to search the database. There is a classification manual alphabetized by item, and categorizing by class and subclass. According to the site, “Patents from 1976 to the present offer the full searchable text, including all bibliographic data, such as the inventor’s name, the patent’s title, and the assignee’s name; the abstract; the full description of the invention; and the claims.”
With much time and effort, we could search the site. Before we invested all that time and energy, I suggested we try Google.
Typing Google Patents into Google brought up the search box. I simply typed in “pencil holder for baseball cap.” When I hit enter, up popped “Pencil Holder for Soft Baseball Type Hats” — U.S. Patent # 5,829.103 complete with the very same drawing which the inventor had shown me. I don’t know who was more disappointed, the inventor or me.
Yes, he was very disappointed, but he was thankful he had not spent thousands of dollars pursing a patent on what he thought could be a million dollar idea.
If you have an invention you’ve been harboring for years, you can use Google Patents to perform your own initial search. The ASU SBDC can help as well. Contact us for assistance.
“Business Tips” was written by Peggy Rosser, Rural Business Development Specialist and Certified Business Adviser IV of Angelo State University’s Small Business Development Center. Contact her at Peggy.Rosser@angelo.edu.