I have an invention idea; where do I start?

Do you have the next greatest product idea? Is your product new or is it an improvement on an existing product? This could be a very exciting time for you, but you can’t just assume that your invention is going to work; you first need to do some extensive research and documenting before you find investors or continue with your inventing process. Following are the basic steps you need to take to develop an idea into a marketable product.

Market Research

The first thing you need to do in your inventing process is to conduct a little market research. You want to find out whether there are any other products on the market that are similar to your idea. Visit department stores, specialty shops, electronic stores and search online for products that meet the specifications of your idea. Are these different from your idea? Does your idea improve on an existing product? Is the cost of your product competitive with other similar products? How well do these similar products sell? These are all questions you must answer before you continue with your invention.

Patent Research

If you still find that your idea could be the next greatest product, then you will want to conduct a patent search to see if there is an existing patent held by someone else on an idea or product similar to the one you have in mind. Go to the U.S Patent and Trademark Office website and search the database using keywords that represent your idea.

If your invention is an improvement or a change of use on an existing product then you can continue with your inventing process. At this stage in the game, you are not necessarily ready to file a patent for your invention, but you want to make sure you aren’t infringing on an existing patent with your idea. This is why conducting a patent research at the beginning of your invention process is so important.


Once you know your basic idea is not patented or that it can be an improvement on an existing product, you need to fully develop your idea, and documentation is critical. You need to add all the details, specify the purpose of your invention, explain the idea and even have basic sketches of your idea.

Basic Prototype

A prototype or model of your idea is essential. When first developing your idea, you don’t need a working prototype or even a beautiful one, but you should put together a rough prototype made of modeling clay or even paper. Basically, you want something to show a product designer who will help you make technical drawings for your invention. The initial prototype offers a couple of advantages. First, it allows you to see a physical representation of your idea, and secondly, it enables you to refine your idea as you progress through the invention process.

The Product Designer

Once you have your specifications and a basic handmade or molded prototype you are ready to find a product designer that can bring your idea to life. Given your documentation a designer will make professional drawings, and in many cases, a computer 3-D model of your invention. Most inventors believe hiring a product designer too expensive a process. However, you can find freelance designers willing to take on projects of this nature by looking online.


Once you have professional drawings and a 3-D computer model of your invention, you can start to look for investors for your product. However, to get investors to consider your idea as one with potential for future revenue you must convince them that your invention is a good one. To do this you may want to first have a working prototype of your invention. At any rate, to find the funding for your invention, it’s essential that you network with other inventors (find out how they did it) and join local inventors groups. You can also look for funding by applying for grants, loans or even finding a government program that will help you accomplish your goals. You may also want to consider venture capital, which is money from enterprises or corporations that offer investment capital in exchange for revenue profits.

The Working Prototype

As mentioned before, you don’t need a working prototype to find investors for your invention idea, but inventors with a working prototype often do better with funding options. Once you have the specifications and 3-D drawing of the product, you can have a prototype made. There are manufacturing companies that specialize in prototype manufacturing. Often, the product designer you used can help you find a prototype manufacturer. However, you can also search for one through other agencies like a local inventor’s group, online or even the Yellow Pages can help find the right manufacturer.

Once you know your invention works, and you find funding, by either funding it yourself or through investment capital, you are ready to patent your product. By seeking a patent you protect your invention from infringement; meaning other manufacturers cannot copy your idea and market it themselves. A design patent protects your invention for 14 years from the moment it is authorized, meaning that during that time, no other manufacturer can make a product exactly like yours.

Yahoo & Facebook Settle Patent Dispute

Yahoo and Facebook have inked a deal that settles their ongoing patent dispute. In March of 2012, Yahoo claimed that Facebook’s technology was using many of the patents Yahoo was granted for social networking and online advertising.

Although no money exchanged hands as a result of the agreement, the companies have consented to cross-license some of their key patents. Although the details have yet to be released, the terms seem favorable enough for both sides to not only drop their litigation, but issue statements of excitement regarding their new partnership.

11 New Judges Added to Patent Appeals Board

united states patentThe United States Patent & Trademark Offices (USPTO) has just added eleven new judges to it’s Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences. The appointment of these new judges is a result of the America Invents Act passed last year, an initiative by the U.S. government to expedite the patent process for new ideas and technology.

The new judges below took the oath of office on June 8th, 2012 at the USPTO office in Alexandria, Va.

  • Rama Elluru
  • John Evans
  • Larry Hume
  • Ulrike Jenks
  • Hyun Jung
  • Brett Martin
  • John Martin
  • Brian McNamara
  • Annette Reimers
  • Sheridan Snedden
  • Michael Strauss

Congratulations to the newest members of the USPTO team! These new team members will contribute to reducing the amount of time required for post pendancy litigation.

2012 Inventor’s Hall of Fame Inductees

Ten inventors joined the ranks of a select few in the Inventor’s Hall of Fame in an Induction ceremony sponsored by the United States Patent & Trademark Office this year.  The annual event held at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and The National Portrait gallery welcomed seven living inventors and three posthumously.  This year’s inductees were;

Akira Endo – Discovered mevastatin (a huge breakthrough in drugs treating high cholesterol).

Dennis Gabor – Gabor passed away in 1979, however his research in electron optics let to the invention of holography which has several modern day applications.

Steve Jobs – With a number of innovations under his belt, Jobs is recognized as a major contributor to modern technology and other industries.

Barbara Liskov – An MIT professor, Barbara has proven herself an innovator by designing CLU and Argus (computer programming languages used that compliment other major languages such as Java and C++).

C. Kumar N. Patel –  Mr. Patel invented the carbon dioxide laser which has broad applications in medical, industrial and military fields.

Lubomyr Romankiw and David Thompson – They developed  usable magnetic thin film storage heads, increasing the capacity of storage drives and reducing infrastructure costs.

Gary Starkweather – Gary invented the laser printer, a revolutionary product that was key to Xerox’s early success.

Maria Telkes – Maria passed away in 1995, but  contributed heavily to early developments in solar energy use.

Alejandro Zaffaroni – A major player in the biotechnology field, Alejandro developed new controlled delivery methods for medications.  Most notable is his concept for transdermal patches.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the hall of fame.

*The National Inventors Hall of Fame annually accepts nominations for men and women whose work has changed society and improved the quality of life.  The candidate’s invention must be covered by a United States patent, and the work must have had a major impact on society, the public welfare, and the progress of science and the useful arts.


US PTO Requested to Review Neptune Patent

patent-lawAker BioMarine had requested a review of the US PTO patent granted to rival Neptune Technologies & Bioresources, and this patent review has now been granted by the US PTO for all 21 claims covered by this patent. The review was granted based on a number of references provided by Aker BioMarine which raised questions as to the validity of the patent, which has been used by Neptune in recent lawsuits against competitors.

Neptune had filed these suits in Delaware, and the fact that the US PTO granted the review is a good indication that Aker and other companies targeted in the suits will prevail in court. The examiner from the US PTO noted that the original patent which was granted to Neptune claimed protection on a natural product (fresh krill meat) which was not invented by the company.

Aker is pleased with the decision by the US PTO and is confident that their freedom to operate with respect to the patent in question will be upheld in the review process. The company has argued that the only reason the US PTO granted the original patent to Neptune is that they were not aware of all the prior art which was relevant to the patent application.

In light of the review decision by the US PTO, Aker is calling on Neptune to withdraw their lawsuits based on this patent and cease the intimidating correspondence they have been sending to marketing companies and distributors of Aker products. The patent in question was only granted one month ago, and it covers methods of reducing the formation of plaque and lowering cholesterol in humans using krill extract. Aker filed a request for a re-examination of the patent on the first day it was granted to Neptune. In spite of the fact that the request for review has been granted by the US PTO, Neptune has refused to withdraw its lawsuits and has stated that they believe that their patent will stand up to the review process.

Neptune has stated that they will defend their intellectual property in court. They argue that simply because a re-examination of that patent has been granted by the US PTO, it does not provide strong indication that the claims of the issued patent will end up being restricted. However, in 89% of USPTO review cases the patent claims are either changed or cancelled.

Fast Trademark Pendancy is Here to Stay!

April has marked a record for the U.S.P.T.O. in trademark pendancy! For the past five years the office has held to it’s goal on 2.5-3.5 months from filing to pendancy. This is mostly a result of a new streamlined system of filing electronically, but also because registration levels remain at low levels.

USPTO Continues Hiring Spree

United States Patent and Trademark Office Director David Kappos has announced that the USPTO will continue with it’s plans to expand the office’s workforce in 2012.  The USPTO is expected to add 1,500 new patent examiners this year in addition to 3 new senior level management positions.

The new jobs are part of the America Invents Act and the USPTO’s  “Strategic Plan” to become more efficient and reduce it’s current backlog.  Kappo’s plans to significantly reduce the time taken for first actions, the current goal is ten months.

Google Lashes out at Microsoft and Apple Over Patent Accusations

Google and Microsoft have been continuing a patent war which Google claims is an attempt by Microsoft to suppress growth of the Android OS, while Microsoft alleges that Google is hoarding patents to protect Android. Specifically, Microsoft noted that Google wouldn’t participate in the recent Novell patent bid with Microsoft because those patents weren’t related to protecting Android.

Google responded to this accusation with their own accusations against Microsoft in a scathing blog post. Google accused both Microsoft and Apple of conspiring to gain control of patents from Novell and Nortel, and to keep patents from Google in an attempt to undermine Android. The Android OS is the flashpoint for this patent war, which is not surprising given that it accounts for 40% of the US market and 50% of the worldwide market.

Google also responded to the accusations by Apple and other patent holders that are alleging Android infringes on their intellectual property. Google’s legal defense is quick to paint the battle as the rest of the technology industry ganging up on Android due to its success. Seen from another point of view, though, some in the industry say that Google doesn’t have the right to accuse others of undermining it when it doesn’t own the patents involved.

Basically, if Google had acquired the patents in question it would have been a non-issue, but since these were acquired by other companies Google is accusing them of conspiracy. Also, from Microsoft’s point of view Google is undermining their business by giving Android away for free. The fact is that other companies outbid Google for the Nortel patents by banding together in a consortium shows how much these patents are really worth.

The United States Congress is in the process of working on patent reform entitled the America Invents Act. Some commentators, such as Forbes columnist Timothy B. Lee, suggest that Google is one of the leading victims of the US patent system which often hampers innovation, and the current move towards patent reform could help the internet tech giant.

Silver Lining of Akamai Patent Suit

A recent patent suit which was filed by Akamai against Contendo has resulted in a buyout of Contendo by Akamai. The patent infringement case was filed by Akamai about one year ago, and the fact that it resolved in a $268 million bid in cash for Contendo is a good sign that there is a silver lining to many patent suits today. It is also a reflection of the fact that Akamai saw value in Contendo’s business as more than just a copy cat of its intellectual property.

This is one of several similar cases in recent weeks in which patent infringement suits have led to buyouts or acquisitions. For example, Nuance Communications also bought out a smaller rival called Vlingo following a patent suit lodged against this voice recognition company.

A patent infringement lawsuit is increasingly a sign that a start up company has potential in the tech world, and the pattern seems to be that more of these companies are resolving the suits in a positive manner through acquisitions. This pattern became evident back in 2007 when Data Domain issued millions to Quantum as part of the settlement terms on a patent infringement case.

Two years later, Data Domain was purchased by EMC for over $2 billion, which represented a doubling in price from the IPO issue. Quantum, on the other hand, has seen their stock drop by more than 25% since the IPO of Data Domain due to falling tape system sales, which have decreased by more than 30% year on year to around $250 million.

Another way of looking at the patent suit resolution between Akamai and Contendo is that it helps to bolster Akamai’s competitiveness. Unsurprisingly, news of the deal caused the share price of Akamai to pop when the deal was announced. Another aspect of the story to consider is how the lawsuit and acquisition will affect the relationship of Contendo with AT&T. It is rare for a company like Akamai to get a deal on a company like Contendo for such favorable terms.

The total cash buy out for about $268 million represents 6 times the revenue estimates for Contendo for fiscal year 2012. Wall Street pushed up the market cap of Akamai to $1 billion on news of the deal because it represents an answer to the assault on Akamai’s business and shows the company has found a way of fighting back.

Kodak in Hot Water after Apple Contests Patent Ownership Claims

Embattled camera-maker Kodak Eastman Co., has filed patent infringement cases against Apple for its four patents relating to digital camera technology.

Apple however denies this claim and petitioned the US Bankruptcy Court in the Southern District of New York hearing Kodak’s bankruptcy case to attach “clarifying language” to such orders by the court that will allow financing to Kodak. It asked the court to indicate that the patents owned by Apple or those it claims which remain disputed should not be attached as security or lien. It clarified that they are not blocking any request of Kodak for post petition financing but that Kodak cannot use the patents that they do not own as collateral.

Apple maintained that during the early 1990s, they had a partnership with Kodak which among others, focused on how Kodak can help Apple in the further development and commercialization of its digital cameras. This resulted in the sharing of digital camera technologies. The two companies entered into a non-disclosure agreement which also includes a provision that all the developments or changes in those technologies will remain with Apple. Therefore, ownership of the patents is with Apple and not Kodak. As a matter of fact, Apple added, that when the information that Kodak was using the subject technology and that they were already claiming the patents as their own, came to their attention in 2010, they were consequently pressed to file a patent infringement case. This still remains under litigation. Kodak on the other hand denies the allegations and maintains that they are the owner of the patents and not Apple.

Kodak has been aggressively claiming its patents in an effort to produce capital to sustain its operation. However, the efforts were still insufficient, prompting it to declare bankruptcy under Chapter 11 in New York. Kodak failed to adapt to the technological advances in digital photography which, ironically, it invented.