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….and with the following statement, our patent system was born.
“Congress shall have the power…to promote the progress of science and useful arts by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.” – U.S. Constitution Article 1. Section 8.
On April 10, 1790, President George Washington signed the bill which laid the foundations of the modern American patent system. The U.S. patent system was unique; for the first time in history the intrinsic right of an inventor to profit from his/her invention is recognized by law. Previously, privileges granted to an inventor were dependent upon the prerogative of a monarch or upon a special act of a legislature.
Young or old, most inventors are thrilled when see their name on a patent issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office in Arlington, Virginia, near Washington, D.C.
In 1790, one Samuel Hopkins of Pittsford, Vermont, was granted the first U.S. patent, for an improvement in the making of potash (a substance derived from the ash of burned plant life and used to make soap and other items) .
The reviewer of this patent was Thomas Jefferson, the Secretary of State and himself an inventor, whose work area was filled with gadgets he had devised (perhaps he examined the patent on the famous portable desk that he invented in 1775).
Jefferson next passed the document to the Secretary of War for his review and then obtained signatures from the Attorney General and, finally, from President Washington. So began something bigger than the Founding Fathers had ever dreamed.
During that first year, Jefferson received two more patent applications, both of which were granted after due deliberation and signature-collecting. But sometime during 1791, as he scrutinized models and sorted through stacks of designs, Jefferson realized that patent-examining was too much for busy Cabinet members. For as little as four dollars, American inventors could seek patent protection for their inventions under provisions of the Act of 1790. And seek it they did.
Jefferson found himself overwhelmed by an outpouring of American inventiveness. By 1793, patent examining duties had been reassigned to a State Department clerk, until the Patent Office was formed in 1802. Today there are more than five million patents that have been issued to Americans and other nationals by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Prior to the Patent Act of July 4, 1836, patents were issued by name and date rather than number. The Patent Office had already issued nearly 10,000 patents, when a fire destroyed many of the original records in December of 1836. Using private files, the office was able to restore 2,845 patents.
The restored records were issued a number beginning with an “X” and called the “X-Patents.” Thus the first patent ever issued was actually designated patent X1. The patents that could not be restored were cancelled.
We’ve all seen them. The ASOTV spots on television – showing us the greatest new products, the thing we just can’t live without – and for an unbelievably low price.
These spots are designed with a very specific product profile in mind and they each use a very specific format in their execution. If we watch closely we start to see the common formula they use to motivate us to pick up the phone.
But wait….there’s more!
One of the cornerstones of that formula is the “problem”. Each spot starts by showing us, the viewer, the problem we’re having that needs to be solved. This sets the stage for the contrast to the “solution” they will show us just seconds later.
Having worked with lots of these projects I was always aware of that critical part of the formula. However, recently someone sent me a clip from YouTube that compiles all the ways these talented directors have come up with for showing us how we’re doing it all wrong. Enjoy!
Like many of you I love to invent, and I’ve been an “inventor” my entire life. From the simple tape and cardboard inventions of my youth to more sophisticated inventions as an adult, the process of discovery has always been the same – and, like many of you, I can look back with fondness on the crazy stuff I built.
When I was about ten years old, my older sister Susan wanted an Easy Bake Oven – but times were tight, and with the demands of seven children to consider, a toy like that would have to wait for a special occasion.
But Susan wanted an oven and I wanted a cake.
So, being an enterprising young lad, and an adorable little brother – I set out on the mission to build my big sister an easy bake oven. Come on, how hard can it be? It’s just a light bulb in a box – right?
First I found an old cardboard box in the basement. Sitting, coincidently, next to a large pile of stuff that magically appeared after I found the box.
Then, like a little inventing ninja a slithered into the kitchen to “borrow” a roll of aluminum foil and a some scotch tape – three rolls of scotch tape later and I had myself a foil lined cardboard box.
To make this shiny box come to life I would need a heat source.
Simple enough, a broken lamp in the basement would do nicely. keep in mind, “broken” was more a term the adults used, to a ten year old boy it was entirely “fixable” or at least had some really cool parts.
Off I go, broken lamp, foil lined box, and a really sharp knife from my dad’s tool box to tame this simple box into a first class cooking machine. An hour or so later, I had a young inventor’s facsimile of that famous childhood icon “The Easy Bake Oven”
My sister was so impressed – although I would learn much later in life that impressing my sister was actually not very difficult.
Long story short – my appreciative twelve year old sister set out to make me a cake in her new and improved Easy Bake Oven. She hobbled all the ingredients together, mixing them just like she had seen mom do, and placed them in the door I had so meticulously cut in the side.
Easy right? Well, remember that broken lamp? It really was broken. No kidding, and in my mind the concept of an electrical short and impending fire had not been born yet. At least not until the sparks started, 3 rolls of tape melted, and the cardboard erupted into flames on the kitchen counter.
No one was hurt, but as always I got grounded, she got nothing, and neither of us got cake.
I receive a lot of emails from inventors asking questions about their particular situation. I listed a few of the questions below that I receive the most often. There are over 1600 educational articles here on the Daily Inventor Blog – but if you can’t find what you’re looking for …just ask and I’ll make sure you find the answer.
I have an idea and don’t know where to start. Can you tell me what to do first?
Sure, the first thing you should do is spend some time studying the process of how a product is taken to market. By understanding what happens in the path between an idea and a retail product you can understand what your invention will have to endure. It will also arm you with the information you’ll need to ensure you’re not taken advantage of by individuals and companies attempting to sell you things you simply don’t need.
You can find a lot of educational resources on the internet, in libraries, and by reaching out to professional inventors. Be careful, some of the books, CD’s, and “Coaching” leave a lot to be desired.
Where can I get a prototype made?
Any number of companies can make a prototype for you. However before you spend your money you should ensure you understand the different levels of prototyping. Prototypes come in several forms and accomplish several functions. First are the “Function prototypes” you make in your basement to prove the actual function of your idea. There are also “Virtual prototypes” digital models created and refined in the computer and then used to print parts. There are “Looks like” and “Works like” models, one used to show just the look, and the other used to show the actual function – neither used for manufacturing – and there are of course “Manufacturing prototypes”, used to create molds and make parts.
Ensure you actually need a prototype past that of the function prototype you made in your basement before spending money. If your plan is to manufacture yourself, you will need to go from a functional prototype, to a virtual prototype, (to dial in and make changes) and then to a manufacturing prototype to send the factory. if your plan is to license your invention to a manufacturer almost always a simple functional prototype is all you need.
Can you recommend a good patent attorney?
Not really. What I can say is that more often than not inventors don’t really need a patent, and if you do, there are a number of good patent practitioners (you can use a patent attorney or a patent agent) to choose from – and because patent rules are federal they don’t need to be located in your state.
My Provisional Patent Application (PPA) is about to run out. Can I get an extension?
This is a question for your patent attorney. They should be able to tell you that while you can’t extend a PPA, in some cases you can re-file it with a new file date.
I need a Mentor will you help me with my invention?
The simple answer here is “No” I don’t normally work with inventors, but I like to think by virtue of you reading this blog I’m already helping you in some way.
As you can see by these questions we have a lot of work to do in educating the inventor community. If you have a question, first use the blog search tool in the right-hand column. Search by keywords and phrases you have particular questions about. If you can’t find the answer email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll make sure you get an answer – but please be patient, there are thousands of you, and just one of me.
I want to explain something about a patent.
If you have ever heard me speak you know I can get quite passionate about things. One such topic I get very passionate about is the historical framework of our (inventors) relationship with the society we serve.
Recently there has been a firestorm of criticism about new patent legislation working its way through congress. I don’t know how much that legislation will (or will not) really effect the millions of inventors out there working in basements and sheds across this great nation.
What I do know is that our patent system is broken, and we will never repair it until we understand why it was created in the first place.
You see, there is a sacred covenant between inventors and society. A covenant designed to benefit both the group of inventors solving problems, and the greater society in which we live.
In short – if we as inventors solve the problems society needs to survive and prosper, society will in return, award us a temporary monopoly (a patent) on that solution so we have an opportunity to monetize it.
Sounds like a great relationship – but it has conditions – or at least it used to have conditions – and that is where the problem lies.
When the covenant was first created (around 1790) two basic requirements were in place to ensure society received the benefit of the solution we invented. First, the solution had to work. Second, the solution had to maintain a steady progression towards commerce where society would eventually come in contact with it.
Today, there is no requirement anywhere in the patent system for the invention to work (be reduced to practice) and while you used to run the risk of losing your patent if you could not show a steady march towards commerce, that is no longer true.
Unfortunately, through legislative actions, a watering down of definitions, and the USPTO failing in their duty to maintain the integrity of our founding fathers intentions – we now have a dysfunctional patent system susceptible to the manipulations of bad actors.
Simply put – Our current patent system awards patents for ideas, and an unproven idea helps no one, least of all society.
Yell all you like about legislation, but if you’re not willing to address the more fundamental issues of shoring up the founding fathers intent, then all the legislation in the world won’t fix our patent system.