Please welcome Pearson Strategy partner Kelly Casey whom provides circuit protection solutions for telecom, data and power lines to defend against a wide range of threats through his company FM Technical Consulting.
I think you’ll enjoy Kelly’s take on laziness, efficiency and the patenting process.
Patent First, Fine Tune Later — Advice to the Hesitant Inventor
Engineers are lazy. That’s their key trait. It’s what defines them. Their laziness is manifested in their passionate pursuit of efficiency.
Manufacturing? Automate it!
Communication? Make it fast, quick and easy!
They’ll work hard to produce clever machines that can save barrels of oil any day. It’s something for nothing! Build the system once and sit back and enjoy the fruits of the machine until the next planned maintenance cycle.
Patent lawyers are not lazy. They love working the details – the more the better. They are never bored with words – in fact, they are essentially paid by the word! They don’t mind producing documents that closely resemble other documents with just subtle nuances of differences. Often times, these documents are called patents.
Lawyers largely invented the patenting process. It’s full of lots of legal terms and tons of words. They even number each line on each page. They have strange ideas about what engineering drawings look like. Engineers do not relish the thought of undertaking the tasks of describing the invention in legal terms, filing the application and then defending the application from examiner’s challenges. It doesn’t seem to be efficient. The whole process can take years!
To engineers, there is a natural tendency to put off such a task until they are certain the invention works and has merit. Maximize the efficiency of an inefficient process by waiting until you are sure! Of course, developing a concept to the point of commercial viability can take a long time. It would also seem to be most efficient to bring potential customers on board to develop the concept as quickly as possible.
As much sense as these strategies make to the engineer, they are poison to the patenting process.
I’m not a patent lawyer and wouldn’t dream of offering legal advice, but I would offer up this sentiment: By the time an inventor has developed sufficient confidence that the invention in question is a good idea with probable commercial value, enough time has elapsed and enough people are aware of the invention that the likelihood that the invention is still “patentable” is nearly zero. The issues in legal terms are “bar dates,” “public disclosure” and the very problematic “obviousness test.”
When the inventor is an engineer, successful patent applicants must fight their natural “efficiency bias” with all their might and drive through the patenting process while still in the fog of uncertainty on the merits of the invention. Remember, patents are generally awarded for inventions that are unique and not obvious to those working in a particular field. They are not awarded to necessarily “good” or “successful” inventions.
I personally have more than a dozen patents. I give a lot of credit to my co-inventors and a hard-working patent lawyer for successfully running the gauntlet at the USPTO. But I can honestly say that only two or three were ever commercially viable. Some just didn’t pan out from a practical standpoint.
Some worked, but we soon came up with even better solutions.
Others were abandoned as the business decided to go another direction. But I know that had we waited to maximize the efficiency of the inefficient patenting process, there would likely be no patents at all.