The Engineering Commons #11: Patents

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This episode was initially posted to The Engineering Commons
 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