Episode 11 — Patents

It sometimes makes sense to protect one’s creative ideas. Chris and Jeff discuss the pros and cons of getting a patent with engineer Dave Gevers.

We are not attorneys, so consult with a qualified legal professional before making any decisions concerning patents or intellectual property!

  • Our guest is Dave Gevers, who leads us through the process of getting a patent with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
  • In addition to his day job as a mechanical engineer, Dave is also a flight instructor, and an A&P mechanic.
  • Dave has been granted an 85-page patent on an aircraft design he developed over more than a decade of evenings and weekends spent making design calculations.
  • Most patents are 10-12 page documents, and don’t reach the massive page count of Dave’s aircraft patent.
  • The length of the patent is, in part, determined by the examiner, a patent office employee who reviews the technical merit of a patent application.
  • Getting a patent application submitted as an employee of a large corporation is distinctly different from going through the process as an individual.
  • In a large company, most of the work is carried out by patent attorneys. The goal is to provide a competitive advantage; this is done in exchange for revealing the workings of the patented idea.
  • Getting a patent on your own is more a matter of personal accomplishment and professional credibility.
  • Patentable ideas are often referred to as intellectual property, or “IP.”
  • Ideas not patented are often held as trade secrets.
  • Patents from the USPTO are granted for 20 years from the filing date.
  • About three years normally elapse between the filing of an application and the granting of a patent.
  • If there is a dispute about ownership, the patent is granted to the party first filing an application.
  • A patentable idea must be novel and non-obvious. It must also be adequately described and claimed by the applicant.
  • Information about filing a US patent may be found on the USPTO website.
  • While attorney fees may vary greatly, the USPTO filing fees are $600-800 for the initial patent application, and $900 for issuing the patent. On top of that, there are “maintenance” fees of $600 after 3-1/2 years, $1400 after 7-1/2 years, and $2400 after 11 years.
  • The Patent Cooperation Treaty, or PCT, allows a single application to be considered in many countries.
  • If your patent is being violated, the first step is to have your attorney send a letter informing the offending party that you are aware of their infraction.
  • Depending on the response you receive, you may choose to grant a license, sell the patent, or go to court.
  • As an individual, your ability to defend your patent is limited by the size of your pocketbook. Famous cases of individuals fighting corporations in court over patent ideas include Edwin Armstrong (the regenerative circuit) and Peter Roberts (quick release device for socket wrenches).
  • Dave feels that individual inventors can use publicity to help protect their ideas from large corporations.
  • For almost no cost, you can file a provisional application, allowing you to mark your device as “patent pending.” However, their are some issues to be considered before filing a provisional application.
  • If the provisional application is not converted to an official application within 12 months, it is considered abandoned.
  • An important step in the patent process is conducting a thorough patent search.
  • When looking for whether your idea is in conflict with an existing patent, pay particular attention to the “independent claims,” found at the end of the patent document.
  • Pursuing a patent as an individual should be undertaken only if you have a sincere interest in the subject, and it makes realistic financial sense.
  • Dave was able to complete 90-95% of the patent application on his own, relying on an attorney to “polish up” the submission.
  • A utility patent protects the inner workings of a process or mechanism, while a design patent covers the ornamental appearance of a functional item. Hence, utility patents are normally considered more valuable that design patents.
  • Dave’s website has some additional information about his Genesis aircraft design.
  • Chris was particularly enchanted by images of the wind tunnel that Dave built with his brother, Matt.
  • Dave can be reached through our website. Leave comments for for this episode, and we’ll be sure it comes to Dave’s attention.

Thanks to Dave Gevers for granting permission to use the image of his aircraft design.

Podcast theme music provided by Paul Stevenson

5 thoughts on “Episode 11 — Patents”

  1. I don’t think I’ve ever worked on a project that could be eligible for a pattent, although there are some things on the borderline. I’ve never worked on a project where the client said, “we should look into protecting the IP”.

    A few years ago I used to get funny e-mails showing patents of common engineering practice, like someone patenting the idea of putting a guard trace to prevent cross talk. I wonder what that was all about.

  2. What would be the best way to prevent companies from patenting something, for instance in the Open Hardware area. I currently do not have the financial resources to obtain a patent or defend one. I have a few ideas that I would like an entire industry to be able to use but would hate it if a single company controlled it. I have not published my ideas yet because reading through and comparing all of the open source / open hardware licenses out there makes my head hurt and eyes bleed. Would getting it published in a journal or magazine constitute prior art and make it unpatentable?

  3. As much I like the plane idea and this particular episode I tend to disagree with the guest on one important part. Patenting is not about Giving someting to common good, it’s more about Hording, being greedy and selfish.

    I do admit that patents are good for getting respect and credibility and as long as they belong the inventor (and not to any trigger happy Megacorp) I’m quite willing to accept them.

    Of course a lot of these patent issues depends on the area of patent. With relatively slow moving tech (like aeroplane-design) this 20 year delay issued with patent will not be a not huge hit, but with electronics and embedded systems 20 years is lifetime of 10 (or so) product generations.

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