Simple Ideas can be Ripe for Infringement. Hint: Get a Patent
Many details in life are easily overlooked, even things of interest or beauty. When is the last time you really looked at the sky, a tire on your car, a pen or a pencil? I’m betting it’s been a while.
As humans, our ancestors were programmed to notice the unusual to help identify their next meal or some danger lurking in the bush. Today, this programming helps us notice a car swerving into our path while we’re driving or a long-overlooked restaurant that catches our eye when we are hungry. Food and danger, of course.
I was reminded to look more closely at everyday objects recently when my son and I hunted down a tasty meal at a local restaurant in the wilds of South Austin. I picked up my utensils and noticed the tiny white paper strip that held together the napkin rolled around them.
Nothing fancy. In fact it was about as simple as you could get: a single snip of paper with some glue on one end, not unlike the sticky note made famous by 3M® years ago. But the detail that I consider the most important was the printing on one end: “U.S. Patent No. 6,644,498.” You know that caught MY eye!
This everyday paper napkin ring was inventive enough to receive a U.S. patent. A few other things make this ring unique: it is a consumable and it’s likely cheap enough that it displaces other alternatives. Further, the paper is easily customizable for companies, special events or other purposes.
Next time you wait for your restaurant meal, consider the lessons for inventors and inventive companies that we can learn from this paper napkin ring. Like many successful inventions, it:
• Solves a common problem.
• Has a reoccurring revenue stream.
• Allows for variations in the markets served.
• Allows for design and material variations.
• Can be customized.
• Stays simple and low cost.
• Is recyclable and appeals to other green aspects of design and materials.
Some quick research reveals that these rings can range in price from $0.002 to $1.30 each although there are likely higher and lower prices available.
You can find the complete patent filing here: US6644498
Patents aren’t the perfect solution for all innovative ideas but are appropriate for many situations. In this case, they may be completely appropriate as the manufacturing and materials won’t be enough to form a “barrier to entry” to keep your competitors and flagrant imposters away from your idea.
Since this idea is patented and is likely enforceable, these imposters are better known as “infringers.”
The ability to protect your idea from infringers is critical as Intellectual Property is increasingly valuable. IP was found to make up 84 percent of the S&P 500’s valuation in 2015.
As inventors and patent holders, you certainly want to be on the lookout for infringers AND deal with each one. Why be so strict? The answer is simple.
A single violator that is not dealt with can disrupt your licensor’s payments to you: Why should they pay if someone else can use the same idea for free?
Have you caught infringers violating your patent? What did you do?
Please share your experiences in the comments below.
Graphic credit: U.S. Patent US6644498