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The Inventor's Mentor

July 2014

Inventing your Golden Parachute

The world is in dire economic straits. Companies are laying off their employees. Banks are refusing to award loans. Your job may be at risk or even worse, you may be unemployed and looking for a means to support your family. What should you do to navigate these rough times? Accept the inevitability of the situation and remain at the mercy of the economic forces; or take matters into your own hands to achieve financial security? My suggestion is simple: don’t wait to be laid off; invent your golden parachute now while you are still employed. Maintain a log book of your inventions. It will provide you with a wealth of ideas to draw from should you need one. Because of the accessibility of information on the Web, inventing has never been easier.

Before embarking on the task of inventing your golden parachute, you must ascertain whether you have an intellectual property agreement with your employer. If you do not have any such agreement, either explicit or implicit, then your inventions belong to you. If you do have such an IP agreement, find out exactly how it restricts you. Is it specific to a particular area of technology? Are you free to invent on your own time? How long after you leave your job, are you free to compete with your employer? In any case, to be safe, do not use any of your employer’s resources to produce your invention, whether these resources are material, computers, services or even telephone. Avoiding the use of such resources may deprive your employer of the potential argument that the invention was done “on the job” and therefore does not belong to you.

The following paragraphs describe a series of steps you should follow to minimize your risk of wasting precious financial and time resources on an unprofitable invention.

Preliminary Commercial Evaluation:    Before you begin, you should conduct, to the best of your ability, a market analysis and draw up a business plan.   If your invention has no potential for making a profit, then stop right here. It may have great possibilities as a hobby but not as a business. If you intend to make a profit you should answer the following questions:

  • What is your market? Who will buy your invention?
  • Do you have the resources to prototype, manufacture, advertise, distribute and sell your invention?  
  • What will its wholesale and retail prices be?
  • How does your product compare in quality and price to the competition?
  • How much profit will you make?

 Patent Search: The search is the next decision point. You must make sure that no one else has patented the same invention or even used it publicly or described it in a publication. Should you manufacture, sell, or use an invention patented by another, you could be sued for royalties. Should you apply to patent an idea that is already in the public domain, your patent may not be awarded. A good search is important to avoid future waste in time and money. However, no search can be guaranteed to be perfect since any publication since the invention of the alphabet, could invalidate a patent. More information on searches can be found in the Newsletter Searching for Prior Art.

Writing up your Invention and Making Drawings: The first step in protecting and communicating your invention is to describe it in writing. This description must be as thorough and complete as possible. It is the basis for communicating your invention to others and for protecting it. It should be in your own words without attempts at legalese. It should enumerate each individual part in an organized and sequential manner and should not include any marketing data

Provisional Patent Application: Provisional patent applications are less expensive to file than non-provisional applications. Even though they offer patent protection, and allow inventors to claim “Patent Pending,” their utility is limited: they are not examined by the Patent Office and last only one year at the end of which they are discarded unless a non-provisional patent is filed. This topic is covered in greater detail in the Newsletter First to File with Provisional Applications.

Development and Marketing. This next decision point is reached after filing of the provisional patent. The inventor has at most one year to test the market and decide if he wants to increase his involvement in his invention or abandon it.

Non-provisional Patent Application: You have up to one year to test the profitability of your invention. If you predict success, then a non-provisional patent should be filed. It provides a 20 year protection from its filing date during which you are entitled by law to exclude anyone from making, importing, selling or using your invention without your authorization.

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This newsletter should not be construed as legal advice.                             ©2014 by George Levy