ON SEPT. 9, I described the ongoing frustration of 99 percent inventors who successfully obtained a patent or two and cannot make any profit by selling or licensing. It costs some money to get your idea "patent searched" and obtain a representation with an intellectual property attorney and proceed to apply for a patent.
If all goes well, you will have a patent in a few years. And now what? That was the crux of last week's column.
A biologist specializing in the wild salmon population in the American Northeast once told me that a female salmon would produce and lay 250,000 eggs. If about 40 out of 250,000 would become adult, the species are considered healthy and successful. My memory is somewhat faded, so please don't quote me for accuracy. But the ratio — 1.6 out of 10,000 — isn't all that different from the number of successful and profitable patent out of all those inventions.
Do I sound very pessimistic? Do I sound very discouraging? Yes to the two questions.
The reason why there are so many disappointing patents and intellectual property owners is quite analogous to what happens to the 250,000 salmon's roe. The environment the roe would face the moment they are discharged from the mother is extremely hostile. It is teeming with natural enemies. Roe is a highly nutritious food, and fish clamor to eat them. When they hatch and become infantile fish, they are chased and devoured by larger fish. Only lucky ones would survive by chance.
However, obviously that is the strategy of the salmon species — to start with a huge number of roe to end up at the proper number for the survival of the species. They have been doing this for millions of years with no problems.
Well, the ecology of intellectual property is very similar in terms of its environment being very hostile. In this case inventors are definitely on the short end of the stick. Let me go through the process of amateur inventors who have the concept of an invention. Let's also assume they have an idea to solve a problem that plagues many people, or so they think. The amateurs even have properly written up the concept in a notebook.
At this juncture the inventors have the choice to:
1) Go to a reputable intellectual property attorney and request "search for the prior arts" — meaning "has somebody gotten there first?"
2) Get to one of those online "invention assistance" outfits and pay a fixed fee so that they would attempt to sell your invention or license it.
3) Do everything themselves. First build a prototype, and try to show it to potential buyers or licensers.
4) Do nothing.
If they choose 1), then the search would bring an accurate result. If someone had beaten them to it, then they can drop the idea and lick their wounds. The advantage of this choice is that there wouldn't be more expense.
If they choose 2), the process of "selling" the invention to potential buyers or licensees is a murky and invisible one. You have no idea just what happens in that process. These outfits charge you upward of $4,000 with no guarantee of success. When the outfit tells you that they found no buyers or licensees, you just have to accept the result. On the other hand, it might be just possible that the outfit succeeds in selling your invention to marketers like Walmart. At least that is implied in their websites.
If they choose 3) this will be a time consuming process. You have to build a prototype, and show it to various marketers by yourself. Take pictures and send them around. In the process you'd learn a lot, but the doubt remains it is worth the effort for your time, travel cost and other expenses.
Case 1309 "Profit from Patent" continues next Monday.
Sam Asano will be conducting an Inventing 101 lecture at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 25, at Rye Public Library, 581 Washington Road, Rye (964-8401). He will speak about his career, items he worked on and method in inventing that spans 54 years. A Q&A will follow.
Shintaro (Sam) Asano of New Castle, who speaks and writes English as a second language, was named by MIT in 2011 as one of the 10 most influential inventors of the 20th century who improved our life. He is a businessman and an inventor in the field of electronics and mechanical systems, who is credited as the original inventor of today's portable fax machine. He also developed a data tablet used in the retail point of sale to capture customer signatures when credit cards are used. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.