Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Frustration with patent system bureaucracy

  1. May 20, 2010 #1

    I am independent amateur inventor and I've come up with some very practical and versatile consumer product designs. I am not after profit, but if some company finds my concepts attractive I surely wouldn't like to make a bunch of rich fellas richer. So I decided to spend some time researching the patent system.

    I was astonished by the immense amount of unnecessary bureaucracy involved there. Not to mention the insane costs of filling a simple invention patent and the tons of requirements, despite which a large number of patents get rejected.

    I am really into research and don't want to get involved in bureaucracy as IMO it is a waste of human resources, and really irritating to me. But if some of my inventions have the potential to become actual products I could surely use some cash income, in order to quit my day job and concentrate solely on R&D.

    In the past I simply did not publish any of my work, and now I feel regrets because other people came up with my ideas and patented them.

    Any advices on how should I proceed? I know in the US priority has the "first to invent" rather than the "first to file", are there any ways to protect and market my ideas without spending a fortune on patent attorneys and valuable time on dealing with the bureaucracy surrounding the protection of intellectual property?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 20, 2010 #2
    Prior art is tried in court. So without a patent you could still, in theory, win such a case if a hypothetical invention is described in such prior art. It will invalidate any subsequent patent. However, the question is: can you afford a lawsuit against a company ? Most individual can not.
  4. May 20, 2010 #3
    IMO the 5000 - 10 000$ fee required by patent attorneys is already too high. The justice system is a bit disappointing, as it literally seems blind, and judges with the scales, that being whoever is able to put more money on the scales wins.

    If there is money to be taken I suppose some fancy lawyer will get in for the cash, but thats just more bureaucracy, the one thing I try to avoid.

    So basically I have to spend a small fortune to protect my work, or just give it away to be exploited by people who already have more than they need. Sometimes I wonder how did we even managed to make things that bad. The third option - to keep my work for myself, a scenario where no one benefits, which is a waste, as I think there are plenty of people who can potentially benefit from my work.
  5. May 20, 2010 #4


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    I have a bunch of patents myself (they're all through the company I work for) and can tell you it takes a huge amount of time to write up a patent and research prior art, both for the inventer and for the lawyer. I dread having to do all that work now, it's a pain in the a$$.

    The patent lawyer isn't getting rich charging $5000 to $10000. Also, the folks that have to review the patent at the patent office have their fair share of work to do. The few thousand $ they charge isn't too high in my opinion - consider the people doing the work have a charge out rate around $80/hr (charge out rate being the internal cost of an employee, not the hourly wage). There's a lot of work that's done to file a patent, it isn't just jotting your idea on a piece of paper and getting it published. The cost reflects the amount of work that is put into doing the research and putting together a proper, legal document that's been thoroughly researched.

    The right way to protect your work for the back-yard inventor is cheap and easy, but people don't want to hear it because they're too paranoid it won't work. All you really need to do is create what's often called an "invention disclosure" which outlines your patent and the basic ideas. Do some background research if you can, but then sign and have someone witness the disclosure. You can then take that to any company that will work with you and peddle your invention. They have the right to disclose the invention publicly, but they generally are fair and will keep it secret. If they do disclose it publicly, you still have a year to file a patent. It really is that simple.
  6. May 20, 2010 #5
    and if I remember right, if after a year that its known to the general public and not just to an 'individual or company' with a signed non-disclosure, if some type of patent process isn't started, its considered in the public domain----
  7. May 20, 2010 #6
    Well, most of the people I know don't make 80$ a day... And those are people who are doing actual work instead of reading papers and deciding if they should be granted a patent or not. It seems for every single hard working person out there, part of the people who put foods on our tables and products in the stores, there are 100 bureaucrats who are mooching off him, and actually making a better living by doing so than the actual hard working person. It's pretty stupid if you ask me, a parasitic society that exploits the very people who's work supports it.

    Should it really be that hard to bring something useful to the world? Keeping in mind it is me who will do all the work?

    Maybe it will be a better idea to try and sell my designs to a company that has the resources to go through all that unnecessary cr@p, but how do I ensure they will not simply steal my concepts?
  8. May 20, 2010 #7


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    We were even told to not bother with the prior art search, it might lead to higher penalties in court if they could suggest you had looked at their patent before filling your own. We pretty much ended up just writing down anything we could think about for an invention and filling a patent with minimal patent agent input - it all gets decided in court anyway so spending money upfront for a patent which migth never get challenged was seen as a waste.

    BUT this was in a consultancy that filled many patents a day - a lone inventor protecting their life's work might be a different story..

    Excellent advice, a patent isn't worth anything - only actually building and selling a product gets money.
    The main difficulty is that companies have a problem listening to you because they are quite likely to have already looked at something similar and so talking to you puts them at risk that you will claim that they stole your idea. They have to be really convinced that you have something great before it's worth the risk.
    This leads to lots of very uninformative 'first date' type meetings where you both hedge around the invention you want to talk about.

    And of course not all companies are quite so honest. http://southflorida.bizjournals.com/southflorida/stories/2010/05/10/daily30.html

    Also this advice is most valuable in the USA which has a 'first to invent' rather than first to patent rule - so it is important to record each possibly patentable idea as strongly as possible.
  9. May 20, 2010 #8


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    Add in health insurance, benefits, and overhead such as the building, computers and software, software licences, office stuff, shipping, utilities, ... the list is endless. A person that earns $30 to $40 /hr has a cost to their employer of about $80/hr. I think an employee's actual cost is all too often overlooked.

    Consider then the cost the lawyer has who's charge out rate is at least $200/hr. He can only work on your patent for a couple of days at $5000 charge. Then there's the cost of getting drawings made (patent drawings are very specialized and have to follow specific rules) and all the other things a lawyer has to do. If you can get a lawyer to file your patent for $10,000 or less, you're doing pretty good.

    Why don't you like the invention disclosure route I outlined? It's cheap, easy and it works. :smile:
  10. May 20, 2010 #9
    yep---this is what I got back on one idea I asked several companies about:

    "Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately we do not accept ideas for review. We are able to accept for review any technology, or patented ready-to-go product, package or device. In order for us to review your submission, we would need to confirm that you are the owner of the technology, that you are not sending confidential information, that there is a basis for *(company's name)* doing business, and that a patent has been filed. Ideas alone are not sufficient for our review.

    A patent application/patent does not guarantee our interest in your submission, nor are we encouraging you to pursue a patent as this can be a lengthy and expensive process. The decision to do so is purely up to you."
  11. May 20, 2010 #10
    Yes, I investigated your advice

    I can make a invention disclosure, found a sample here:


    I can also claim "first to invent" by making a presentation of it, I've been doing video production for 2 years, and uploading it to some public video hosting like youtube.

    However, that would only grant me "first to invent" in the US, and I am not a US resident. Furthermore, why would any company pay for my invention instead of waiting for 1 year and getting it for free? On the one hand I am pretty sure my designs have significant advantages and would attract interest, but on the other hand, spending 10 000$ for an actual patent, plus, as it seems - months of paperwork and such - would be a big waste if the companies interested decide to use their money and lawyers to finding a work-around to my patents, through minor modifications and such... I am sure you know what I mean
  12. May 20, 2010 #11


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    Interesting, I've not done it that way myself and our company wouldn't do that. We've always had to do as much background research as possible to verify the patent claims. In fact, I've sometimes missed things and the patent office finds them and throws them up as prior art that blocks some or all of the claims we may have. On one occasion, we missed a prior art patent entirely and our patent was later dismissed.

    I would agree that there are many frivolous patents out there and that many of those block other companies from doing things even though the frivolous patent wouldn't hold up in court. There are patents put out that do nothing but throw a smoke screen up to try and prevent competition.
    Interestingly, I think some companies are more open to outside patents than others. I recently contacted the John Deere company about something and they seemed very easy to work with. But you're right that most companies aren't nearly as open, and I think part of that is as you elude to, that they have many opportunities for patents that they just don't take for various reasons such as wanting to keep something proprietary or not seeing sufficient benefit in patent protection. They've already seen the idea or something similar, so discussing the idea with an outsider could be legally problematic.
  13. May 20, 2010 #12

    D H

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    An IP attorney who only charges $200/hour most likely is a rather lousy one. $275/hour is the mean, the fees are much higher in high-tech cities. If you want a lucrative career, go for IP law. A patent for a better coat hanger or mouse trap (i.e., something real simple) will be in the $5000-$10000 range. For something with any complexity and the cost will ramp up.

    Most patents are now obtained on the behalf of corporations. Patents are still in the names of the people who came up with the novel idea, but those people almost inevitable sells the rights to the company for which they work. Almost equally inevitably the price paid by the employer to the employee is minuscule (e.g., $1). In defense of this practice, while the employees might have been the ones who came up with the idea, but it was the employer who paid the employees' salaries while they were working on the invention, the employer who supplied the lab equipment, etc. Many companies do give very substantial awards to their inventors, but those awards are distinct from the payment for the patent itself.

    The patent system has become rigged against the lone inventor. The patent system has grown to foster the huge engine of ingenuity that is the hallmark of our modern age, and the center of this engine are high-tech firms and their employees. Lone backyard inventors play a bit role these days. That's just life in the modern era.
  14. May 20, 2010 #13
    It's all about consolidating the power of the corporate over the private sector, making people dependable on corporations for everything that comes to mind.

    Not a good thing...
  15. May 20, 2010 #14
    I think that's what my dad got for an invention on a part for the Mercury/Gemini project.
  16. May 20, 2010 #15
    On the other hand, lab equipment does not come up with inventions on its own... It's sad to see the effort of the human genius taken away for a dime and then turned into an exploit...
  17. May 20, 2010 #16


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    Simple, you can take it to any number of their competitors at the same time and take the first offer you get. They have a limited time to act on your offer or their competitor may take it. If your idea is really worth something, and they see the value, they won't want a competitor taking it within the 1 year limitation.
    Certainly there are work-arounds to any patent or invention. You have to consider that when you write your invention disclosure and any patent attorny will also consider that when writing the patent. Claims are written as broadly as possible as long as they don't infringe on some other patent claims. But if an idea is that good and that well thought through that there is no easy work around to it, then why not pay for the patent? (Answer: it's expensive - it costs a lot to design, build and test it, it costs a lot to market, it costs a lot to do anything with an idea, that's why your typical entrepeneur doesn't patent stuff they can't act on. I think you have to give the people at the company you try to sell your idea to a lot more credit for risking their hard earned cash on someone's idea that may or may not pan out.)
  18. May 20, 2010 #17
    There was something else, but I can't remember the details---there was something/some way in the patenting process that you could send some design in to them, something like a 'pending' design that they could 'take' as a preliminary part of the process and it would be good for some period of time, and also be some kind of record of 'first'---but I can't remember any details
  19. May 20, 2010 #18
    Q_Goest - 10x man, you've been helpful

    I'll probably try to market one design in the public, making sure everyone knows I am the "first to invent" and see how it goes.

    I myself have been thinking of offering it to as many top tier companies in the area of the actual product as possible, and granting it for a one time minimal fee, as I said profit is not my top priority, but some income will make it possible to quit my day job and work harder on new designs.

    It's only my deep concept of right and wrong wanting me to prevent exploits of my work, by people who already are rich beyond necessity, but that would mean also depriving potential end user benefits, which I guess would be selfish of me.

    Heck, Tesla, the one man who made the industrial revolution possible ended up not only in poverty, but with almost no recognition. The world is unfair, the question is do we reconcile with that or do we try to make it better? I mean, if it was us who did it, we should also be able to undo it?
  20. May 20, 2010 #19

    D H

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    I don't think that is what I received for my inventions (the price my employers at the time paid for the patent or other IP). I know that that is what I received. I kept those checks. (Kind of a passive-aggressive way of saying "Thanks!" Checks that don't clear are a royal pain in the a$$.) One buck is a very typical price. Awards etc. are a separate issue. Good employers will reward their employees quite nicely, especially for a patent that actually is worth something (many are not) -- but they often pay a buck for the patent itself.
  21. May 20, 2010 #20


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    random rant: I think it's all too easy to consider corporations as monolithic, evil empires that manipulate employees like puppets. The truth I believe, is not so simple. If someone approached your company with an idea they claimed could improve the product you were in charge of, what would you think and what would be your responce, knowing that you've put 10 or 20 years into the product and have seen all of the good, bad and ugly? Corporations are made of people like you and me, people that want our company to succeed so we can succeed. We are weary of possible legal problems that may come knocking on the door under the guise of a product improvement. I for one can understand the reluctance of people working for a company to embrace every new idea that walks through the door. It isn't the corporate CEO that has to yank on my strings, I think we as engineers and product owners are simply being cautious all by ourselves.

    Ok, I'm done now... time for work... :(
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook