That’s a great idea
By Hugh Deadwyler
for the Salisbury Post
So you’ve got a great idea? I can relate. I’m someone who had an urge to invent at an early age.
I decided, as a kid, I could make a perpetual motion machine. It was a Ferris wheel type arrangement, with magnets, made from coat hanger wire. It didn’t work, so we’re all having to deal with the energy crisis today.
The wackiest thing I ever invented was a talking kitchen garbage can. It was associated with a computer program that I developed, with the help of my brother, designed to “scientifically” generate grocery lists based on the empty packages thrown away from the pantry and refrigerator.
The garbage can worked like this: Say you served a can of peas for supper. You’d throw away the can, and when you stepped on the foot lever that lifted the lid of the trash container it would actuate a tape recorder (mounted on the back of the garbage can) and you would say “one can of peas.” When the lid shut, the tape recorder would turn off.
After several days of recording items like “instant potato box” and “steak packaging” you would then dismount the portable tape recorder and play back the tape when you’re seated at the computer. You would then type in the names of the recorded items into the “pantry management” program we had developed. Then when you were ready to go to the store, you could print out a grocery list based on the items you had thrown away.
Somehow this idea never took off commercially, but I had another brilliant idea for the kitchen. Funny, because I don’t cook and never even washed dishes growing up in the 1950s.
I invented “condiment bottle draining baskets.” I received U.S. patent number 5,080,150 on a patent I wrote myself. It launched a career for me as a paralegal but these “upside-down catsup draining baskets” never got off the ground.
My patent reads in part as follows: “This invention relates to recovering catsup, sauce and salad dressing that may otherwise remain stuck in the bottom of the bottle. Consumers often discard these condiment containers with as much as five percent of the product still left inside. Householders sometimes do access this remainder but only with difficulty, using such means as shaking or pounding on the bottom of bottles or awkwardly propping them upside down in their refrigerator door or trying to balance the bottle on its cap.” (This was before the advent of cap-standing catsup bottles.)
My patent continues: “The solution, described in this application, is rectangular semi-flexible baskets with broad bases. Each size of a set of two baskets (a preferred embodiment) holds a wide range of shapes and sizes of common condiment bottles in an inverted position allowing all of the product to drain into the neck of the bottle for complete and immediate use once the cap is opened.”
One basic thing you need to know about patents is that you can’t patent an “idea.” It has to be of a specific construction or “embodiment” as the patent parlance goes.
For example, I saw an item in a mail order catalog that did exactly the same thing (drained nearly empty catsup bottles) but it was constructed in a different way. Rather than expanding plastic baskets, it was a refrigerator-door shelf rack that held the bottles in an upside down position. Let’s say the people that invented the catsup bottle rack saw my patent (an issued patent is a public document). They then could have “reverse engineered” my idea to do the same thing without infringing on my patent.
I wrote my own patent and if you’re a pretty good technical communicator, you can, too. I went professional with it and got a job with a patent attorney writing patents for simple inventions under the watchful eye of a lawyer. I also earned a paralegal certificate.
There’s a popular book, written by a patent attorney, that helps you walk through the complicated process. You are allowed to write your own patent for your own invention. But you, or I, for example can’t write patents for other people because we’re not attorneys.
But do you really want to go to the considerable expense (filing and renewal fees) along with the time and trouble to prosecute your own patent?
Probably you don’t. According to some sources, 98 percent of all patents are never “commercialized.” Even fewer are commercialized profitably. So, particularly if you’re inventing outside of your field, you may be statistically better off buying a wheelbarrow full of lottery tickets instead.
What sunk my catsup bottle upender baskets was the cost of making custom basket-shaped moulds that would cost well into five figures. The plastic that would be poured, high speed into the moulds, at that time, cost only pennies. But to recover the cost and manufacturing time, as well as to distribute and market plastic ware, brings the price up to what we see in stores today.
In my job as a patent paralegal, the saddest case I saw was a gentleman with a terminal diagnosis who brought in a prototype of a forgettable invention in a cardboard box. He spent many thousands of his savings on a patent so his wife would be secure on the proceeds of the invention ó he bet their life savings on the likelihood of a lightning strike.
If, after all of this, you’re still interested in pursuing or at least researching doing your own patent you can order the book “Patent It Yourself” by David Pressman, patent attorney. From it you will learn how to do at least a limited low-cost/no-cost patent search to see if your brainchild has already been invented and protected with a patent.
To order “Patent It Yourself” go to www.nolo.com and put the book’s title in the search box. Remember, the safest route is to have an attorney draft your patent. But the more work you do yourself the more money you’ll save.
Back to my personal situation: Did I ever invent anything that was successful? Well, yes, sort of. And it wasn’t a kitchen invention; it was in the realm of personal finance.
It was a product designed to protect people from their own credit cards. I sourced a small standard size “coin envelope” typically used for coins, jewelry, buttons and whatnots. But it turned out these envelopes were a perfect fit for a charge card. I had them printed up and named them “Charge Card Guards” with a place on the front for the name of the card and the pay-down goal (usually “0”). On the back of the envelope was printed, “I will open the envelope for” … Then the user supplies, for example, “car repairs,” “medical expenses,” and other essential things.
Then there was printed, “I will not open the Charge Card Guard for …. “sporting goods store,” “electronics outlets,” “internet purchases,” or “restaurant outings.” I got some free publicity for them and sold about a dozen sets of them.
Were “Charge Card Guards” patentable? Maybe, I didn’t try. But they would not be eligible for a patent if the patent office determined that putting a charge card in a coin envelope was an “obvious thing to do.”
If you’d like some of these credit card size envelopes free (they are blank envelopes, the printed up Charge Card Guards are long gone) just send me a self addressed stamped envelope (SASE) and I’ll send you four at no charge. Send your stamped envelope to: Hugh Deadwyler, 317 Heilig Ave., Salisbury NC.
Remember these are just credit card size blank envelopes so you’ll need to print the aforementioned instructional information on them yourself.
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