Wednesday, March 18, 1998
BUSINESS TOOLS: Software, Technology and New Products to Help Your Company
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, like just about everyone else in America, occasionally come up
with an idea that I'd love to turn into a billion-dollar product. I've
never done it, but some people with great ideas have, taking the time to
develop their product, file for a patent and bring it to market.
It's not an easy process. Aside from having a great idea, you have to go through a search process to make sure that no one else has come up with it before. You have to file for a patent and determine if there's a market for the product.
But assuming you do have a worthwhile idea, you'll almost certainly want to file for a U.S. patent. The process is time-consuming and can cost anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.
Kernel Creations Ltd. (http://www.4patpro.com">http://www.4patpro.com) says it can help inventors protect their ideas with an "easy-to-use computer interactive software designed and used by patent attorneys." Patent Pro ($279), according to the advertising on the box, promises to be "your personal patent attorney!" With this software, "you can do it yourself and save THOUSANDS!" the box continues. According to the company's Web site, "perhaps the greatest misunderstanding by inventors is that they must have a patent attorney prepare and file the application. Indeed, inventors have been preparing and filing their own patent applications since the system first began."
The program will take you through the steps of creating your own patent application. But filling out a patent application involves more than filling in the blanks. With or without software, you have to write a convincing application that includes the qualities and benefits of your invention, its elements, legal descriptions of your intellectual property and much more. Patent Pro will guide you through the steps necessary to complete a patent and it will assemble your final document, but it won't write the text or help create your drawings. You have to come up with your own language.
That, said Alan Tratner, president of Inventors Workshop International (http://www.vitalview.com/ideahelp or  962-5722), is the hard part of developing a patent application. "It's extremely critical that the words be crafted precisely to delineate the breadth or narrowness of the actual claims that affect the power of your patent," he said.
Tratner strongly recommends that inventors seek the help of a good patent lawyer. His Santa Barbara-based organization provides training, low-cost assistance and attorney referrals to inventors and entrepreneurs who are willing to do a bit of extra homework in exchange for lower-cost services.
"It's not a good idea to write your own patent," he said. "Writing a utility patent on a product you are about to launch is very risky. The language and the word craftsmanship are extremely important."
Bob Mason, vice president of Kernel Creations, contends that inventors can indeed safely create their own applications by using his software.
"Patent Pro is unlike any other software in that it comes with support by attorneys registered to practice before the Patent and Trademark Office, so the users get the best of both worlds," he argued. "Inventors describe what they know best--the invention--and get help by patent attorneys."
Customers can send e-mail or faxes or call the software publisher for advice on claim language and any other patent office requirements. The company, Mason added, will offer "suggestions, modifications or even help the investor write the application."
Some Patent Pro users "use Patent Pro to generate a draft of their application and have it reviewed by their patent attorney for a fraction of the cost of having an attorney draft the entire application," he said.
Although there may not be any magic bullet for generating a defendable patent and marketable product, there are plenty of programs and online resources that, according to Tratner, "are exceptionally helpful to the inventor/entrepreneur."
To begin with, there are numerous drawing programs that can help you create the drawings the patent office requires. Programs such as CorelDraw, Micrografx's Designer, and Macromedia FreeHand Graphics Studio give you an ample selection of tools to create 2-D and 3-D models of your invention.
The Internet, of course, is a valuable resource for learning about patents as well as doing market research, learning about similar products, finding materials and finding contacts and firms that might be interested in your products.
You can begin by visiting the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office at http://www.uspto.gov/. Here you'll find general information, trademark and patent forms that you can download and use, a listing of patent office fees and a patent search database that covers 1976 to now.
The patent search database can be a bit tricky to use, but once you figure it out, it will yield an incredible amount of information. I found 314 patents by searching the keywords "portable" and "computer." There are 13 patents covering the terms "hairbrush" and "hair brush." IBM (http://www.patents.ibm.com) also offers a free Web-based search engine for U.S. patents going back to 1971. The patent office Web site also has a searchable database of patent attorneys and agents, as well as extensive information about patents and how to file them.
Patent Pro's publisher offers a free online copyright and trademark preparation service at http://www.4patpro.com">http://www.4patpro.com. Users fill out their own applications online and, for an optional $50 fee, can have them reviewed by an attorney.
Lots of private companies use the Web to promote their services and provide patent information. Derwent (http://www.derwent.com), which offers a range of services to inventors, has a patent resource center on its Web site, which includes an overview and history of patents.
There are numerous patent attorneys with Web sites, but my favorite is the law office of Michael Colitz Jr. (http://www.colitz.com/), which includes a "wacky patent of the month," as well as a set of less amusing but more useful links of interest to inventors.
Links to all sites mentioned here plus more patent-related Web sites can be found at http://www.larrysworld.com/patent.htm
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