Thursday, April 17

Four patent terms you should know


Someone once asked me what the best part of inventing was. I thought about it and I think for me it's the challenge of proving my hypothesis and actually making something work.

But like our friend Sir Issac Newton found out, for every action there is an opposite reaction.

The opposite action to the fun of a challenge for most inventors (myself included) is the less than fun part of learning about subjects we need to know, but don't particularly enjoy.

One such subject in our industry is Patent Law.

These technical looking documents crafted by smart, educated people often intimidate and bore us.

Okay, I said it, Patents are boring - they are no fun to read, they are expensive, and worst of all they don't make us feel very smart.

For that reason when I run across a tidbit of information about patents that helps explain the subject in terms we can all understand, I always try to bring it to your attention.

Below is a simple explanation (from patent attorney Quan Nguyen) of  the four primary terms that will affect your ability to file for protection on your invention.

Public Use = No grace period. You cannot file a patent.

Public Sale = No grace period. You cannot file a patent

Public Disclosure = 1 year grace period if disclosure is by the inventor or the disclosed content by third party is derived from the inventor. If Not - No grace period and you cannot file a patent

Secret Use = USPTO position is that secret use or trade secret subject matter is patentable. However, this USPTO position is untested by the courts and we will have to see how the law will develop with respect to secret use

You can see by these definitions that how and what you do with your invention is critical to the protections you can receive.

That said, remember only a small percentage (estimated to be less than 20%) of retail products are patented. Even know running off to get a patent is what most inventors want to do, it's not normally the best course of action for a normal retail product.

What is a good idea is to understand how these four terms can affect you later if you do decide to seek patent protection - and as always get the advice of a licensed patent attorney or a broker authorized to practice before the US Patent Office.

Mark Reyland  

Wednesday, April 16

Just one of many tools....

Definition of NEED

1: necessary duty : obligation

2 a : a lack of something requisite, desirable, or useful
   b : a physiological or psychological requirement for the well-being of an organism

3: a condition requiring supply or relief

Recently I was having a discussion about the Value Index [Cost (divided by) # Uses (=) Value Index - See http://inventoropinion.blogspot.com/2013/07/whats-your-value-index.htmlwith an inventor named Dave.
Dave pointed out that the Value Index does not take into account the consumer's "Need" factor - and he's correct.
The reason for this is that " Need", like many other factors, is 100% subjective. It is one of the strongest motivators for consumer purchase to be sure, but it's not quantifiable, so it's not factored into the Value Index.

The Value Index really serves as a development tool,  forcing you to stop and evaluate in a quantifiable way, the value of your product to a consumer.
That said - remember the Value Index is one of several such tools that should be used to calculate overall "Market Viability" and help you decide if you should go forward in the development of this great idea of yours.

Tools such as the "Use Cycle" the "Benefit/Detriment scale" "Workarounds" and the "Pricing Equation"  are all important principals to apply in the consumer product development process - and all important steps in taking out the emotion that will no doubt cloud your judgment.
In the end these are just tools you as an inventor can use to achieve a level of objectivity. There is no requirement that they be applied, no product police checking for them. However, we as an industry learned long ago, applying these tools and learning to take the emotion out of the process will make both better products, and better inventors.

Tuesday, April 15

See ya in Iowa this Friday night!

Those of you who know me personally know I like to talk. Get me started on inventing, or the issues we as independent inventors face in our society and you're likely to get an ear full.

As you may expect, a passionate guy with experience in everything from making prototypes to selling to large retailers - who likes to talk - is a shoe in as a guest speaker.

That's why Friday night you'll find me at the Cedar Rapids Science Center teaching one of my most popular inventor classes - Functional Inventing - and Saturday I'll be on stage at Makers Fair talking about the industry, the effects of the Makers Movement, and the impact we as inventors have on our society.

Seating is limited, so RSVP both events at
norah@crsciencecenter.org while there is still space.

We'll see you in Iowa this Friday and Saturday

Mark Reyland
   

   

Monday, April 14

Do I really need a UPC?


As a consumer, you’ve probably noticed how nifty and efficient Universal Product Codes are. And as an entrepreneur, you may have figured out that having UPCs or bar codes on your products could be important for ensuring their success at retail.
UPCs are the unique configurations – consisting of a block of black and white bars with an accompanying numbers that appear on each individual product in the American retailing system. Because they help standardize the identities of millions of products across various manufacturing, distribution and retailing systems, UPCs have become crucial for making sure that everyone in the marketplace is buying and selling exactly what they think they’re buying and selling.
And for startups, getting UPC codes for your products has become part of the price of admission for scaling up your production, distribution and sales. Here’s what you need to know:
What exactly are UPC codes?
Each UPC Code is a set of alternating black and white bars representing numbers (12 in the U.S.; 13 in Europe) that scanners recognize as unique from every other product. These markers caught on in the U.S. grocery business more than 30 years ago after the feds instituted new standards for nutritional labeling on food containers.
Today, the not-for-profit group GS1, administers UPCs globally. This is in fact the ONLY place you can obtain an original UPC account. However there are many companies that buy UPCs in bulk and resell them to smaller manufactures and even inventors.
It’s important to note here UPCs are an inventory control device as well as a modern day price tag. When you assign a UPC to a product you assign it based on the inventory control requirments. For example if you are selling Teddy Bears to Target and the buyer could care less what colors they come in you would assign one UPC to that product. However if the product comes in 12 colors and Target is interested in tracking all 12 colors of Bear you must assign a different UPC to each color. Now you have used 12 UPCs instead of just one. The same would be said for size, or any other defining characteristic of the product.    
Do I really need UPCs on my products?
If you plan on selling through large retailers, you will absolutely need to have a UPC. You won’t get far in mainstream retailing without UPCs, because chains depend on bar-code info provided by their suppliers to ensure accuracy and drive efficiency in their own sales results, ordering and logistics. You’ll also need UPCs to be able to use Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) to electronically receive and send info about orders. A small boutique store may not use EDI, but it’s a standard ordering system used by almost all major retailers.
On the other hand, if you mainly sell to a handful of small B2B customers, you might never need bar codes. Or if you largely retail your products through mom-and-pop shops, boutiques, artists’ markets and other small-scale outlets that generally don’t rely on scanning equipment, you might be able to avoid the bar-code requirement as well – though you should have your own internal way of keeping track of individual products.
Tristen Sullivan recently discovered the importance of UPCs when Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s began requiring her Los Angeles baby-accessories company to supply them.
“I would have lost an order from Nordstrom’s several months ago if I hadn’t been able to get up and running with UPC codes,” says Sullivan, whose Dust Bunnies line includes baby blankets, boots and other accessories. But the $1-million company continues to ship its wares to about 600 boutiques without attaching UPCs.
So, how do you get UPCs?
You’ll pay an application fee of a few to several hundred dollars, then a much smaller annual fee. The exact amount of the fee depends on your answers to application questions, including a revenue projection for the next 12 months, and the number of products for which you expect to need individual UPCs in that time. You won’t be held to the answers, so it’s OK to guesstimate.
Assuming your application is accepted, you’ll be e-mailed a “member kit” including company-ID sub-code that will comprise the first few digits of each of your UPCs. You supply a few digits by numbering your own products. Then GS1 generates a random number for the last digit of each UPC.
If you don’t want to purchase UPCs directly from GS1 you can purchase them from a reseller. These companies are all over the place and vary greatly in how they work and how much they charge. Generally for an inventor this is a better option since the amount of product you are selling is relatively low and your market may be untested. You will pay a little more but you don’t lock yourself in to anything long term.
As you can see, UPCs are just another of the many things you have to know when taking a product to market – but if you take the time to educate yourself and ask questions you can normally eat the product development Elephant one bite at a time. 
Mark Reyland

Friday, April 11

From Mark's mail bag


Our question is as follows: if we show our product to an international company, can they take our product idea and capitalize on it internationally as we are not protected overseas?  Gilbert E The short answer Gilbert is yes.  Since the passage of the Patent Cooperation Treaty in 1970, cooperation between countries on patent issues has increased significantly.

However, since there is no such thing as an international patent, you enjoy only those protections awarded to you by the granting of a fully awarded patent in each and every country where you apply.

Short of an awarded patent you have only the discretion of silence and the use of a Non Disclosure Agreement to protect you.

What is your recommended "business plan software" that is geared mainly for inventors? Adel M This is actually a question I get quite often.  Currently there is no business plan software I'm aware of for inventors. However, a standard business plan is very important for an inventor taking a product to market, and some modified "Inventor Plan" is important to create for yourself as you look at the processes of inventing and commercialization.

Do you currently provide any assistance with licensing? Thanks, Art S Not the way you may have intended the question.  What I mean by that is I provide education on the processes of licensing a product, but not the services.

Do you have a list of inventor friendly companies?  Thank You, Bob J. Well Bob, that's an interesting question. You see, over the years I've seen that magic "list" be used many times as a hook to sell coaching services, or useless yellow books. The reality is, who really knows what makes a "friendly" company much less an inventor friendly one. Since inventors sometimes act irrationally and a bit aggressive with companies such a listing would be subjective and all but impossible to keep current.

The rule of thumb is companies build stuff, and they sell stuff. They are almost always looking for stuff to both build and sell. If you bring them a well thought out product, the market research to support it, and act professionally, I assure you they are all friendly - especially if the inventor who came there before you did the same.

If you have inventor questions please send them to me at mark@markreyland.com and I'll do my best to get you an answer. Who knows, maybe your question will end up here on the Daily Inventor blog where over 2000 people a day can read it.  

Mark Reyland

Thursday, April 10

Stop buying that stuff..... really!

It never fails. I run into an inventor who tells me about the great new invention they have turned into a product and asks for some advice. No problem - I give advice all the time.

As the inventor is running down the laundry list of experience they've had, and almost hyperventilating with enthusiasm, it all starts to become very familiar. You see, it's almost always the same conversation.
I had this idea.... my family loved it.... there is nothing out there like it...I got a patent...I had a prototype made...then I... - you know the drill.  A seemingly endless list of things that cost this person money but in reality have not gotten them anywhere close to the goal line.

Patents, prototypes, web sites, photographs, packaging, tooling, consulting, design work - and worst of all manufactured goods. These are just some of the high dollar things inventors love to spend money on. We even had a lady buy a Jingle for her product one time. Nice song, but the product was not very good.
I guess it's not a big mystery why the inventor industry has so many people trying to take money from inventors - after all many inventors spend money like drunken sailors.

Please Stop - I'm begging you - Please stop spending money on things you don't need and educate yourself on things you do need before you go buy them.
My advice -

If you have to spend money and you are licensing your idea/invention - Build a homemade prototype, nothing fancy, just show your theory works. Apply for a Provisional Patent Application (Even that is optional) then have a computer rendering made of the product and a manufacturers sell sheet done.   All in all that's about a $700.00 investment, drop the PPA and you are in the $250.00 range. This small investment is more than enough to license a product to any manufacturer. 
If you are trying to take your product to market yourself - Don't. Go back and find a product you want to license out, and only when you have mastered that process and the licensing royalties are enough to pay for the trip to market on another product should you even think about going down that road.

It's really that simple. So many inventors buy whatever they are told they "need" and have no clue if they really do. So follow these little steps before you send someone money.
1) Educate yourself about the process so your opinion about what you need actually means something.
2) Reach out to a reputable professional in the industry who isn't selling you something and ask for their opinion.
3) Ask your family - after all they are in this boat with you, and if you throw away money they pay the price.  

Mark Reyland

Wednesday, April 9

Thanks Winston

 

These words, spoken so many years ago by a man who led an entire nation through one of the darkest periods in history - these simple words - shine as a beacon all these years later.

Inspiration. 

A light house if you will, we can use to guide us through the often dark and turbulent waters of inventing. 

You see, Winston Churchill had it right. He knew, as we should know, that failure is not fatal. It is an important part of a much larger process. A process designed to encourage failure.

For without failure you have no success. They are the antithesis of one another; the polar opposite we use to let us know where the other resides. 

Failure is far from fatal, it is not something to be feared, but something to chase - a guidepost of our journey and the barometer of an inventors success. 

Mark Reyland