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MMD > Archives > May 2002 > 2002.05.07 > 10Prev  Next

Value of Patenting Ideas
By Colin MacKinnon

Once upon a time, as an engineer working for a manufacturing company,
I was responsible for assessing patents and ideas with a view to
providing financial assistance and taking up the products.  Very few
ideas we looked at made marketing sense and the path from invention
to financial success was not easy.

I concur with Andy LaTorre in his experiences and summation.
Yes, you can produce a copy of a patented product for personal use.
Yes, you can freely make and sell items produced by a patented device
or a copy of that device.  An example from years ago was a patented
apple coring machine.  The inventor, a farmer, wanted a better, more
economical way of coring apples and came up with a machine which he
patented.  He thought he'd sell his machine to every other apple grower
in the world!  However he didn't make as much money as he hoped because
other apple growers simply copied and improved the coring machine and
made their money from selling cored apples.

People have a false sense that a patent will protect their idea.  That
is far from the reality of life.

Yes, you can copy a patented product and steal the market and say "so
sue me and my $2 company".  There are companies prepared to do just that,
and they are searching the patent applications daily for good ideas to

Yes, rather than spend the budget on patents, it is often better to
spend that money on getting a product to market.  Of course a patent
attorney would disagree.

We found that inventors in general were so enthusiastic and engrossed
in their invention that they had not considered two vital aspects:
(a) is there a better way? and (b) will it make money?

As an example of a better way, we had an inventor who worked in the
fabric industry who came up with and patented a mechanical device to
control a cloth weaving machine.  It was a neat but complex arrangement
of gears and cones that adjusted the machine to maintain tension, etc.
I had to tell him that $10 worth of transistors and a relay would do
the same thing and was a well known concept in the electronic process
control area.

Two inventors came to us after spending well over A$100,000 patenting
and prototyping a back pack dispenser for ice cream (the hard variety
of ice cream, not "soft serve") for use at sporting and entertainment
venues.  I quickly determined that it could not pass health regulations,
and the energy that pushed the ice cream through the dispensing pipe
came from pressurising the housing with 100 PSI air.  In short, it was
a bomb on some kid's back!

So, while the invention functioned, there was no way it would make
money.  The inventors had been so keen on their idea they had not
considered the wider picture.

Then we got the people who would ask us to finance their project.
The conversation always went like this :-

Q:  What is your project?
A:  Can't tell you.

Q:  What does it do?
A:  Can't show you.

Q:  Is it patented?
A:  Yes, in 200 countries.

Q:  How many do you think you will sell?
A:  Millions.

Q:  So, how much money are you prepared to invest?
A:  None.  Your company would do all that and pay me 50% royalty
    on the selling price.

Next, please!!

The laser roll cutter recently proposed, with patent applications filed
by Mr. Gerety, would not prevent others from making a similar or even
identical machine, as long as they didn't sell such a machine that
conflicts with the patented claims.  Nor would it create a market
monopoly for recut rolls.

If Mr. Gerety is able to provide a service in producing rolls that the
market needs, at a price that the market will pay, then everyone will
be happy.  Time will tell.

Colin MacKinnon, cynical but realistic
Sydney, Australia

(Message sent Tue 7 May 2002, 02:19:36 GMT, from time zone GMT+1000.)

Key Words in Subject:  Ideas, Patenting, Value

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