Time to Rethink Patent Pending?

Patent Sign 1
Over the last few years I have been involved in a few successful patent applications but personal experience doesn’t always represent the whole picture so when a client reflected on a different experience with the patent process I figured I’d better do some research on the subject. I called the patent lawyer we often refer clients to. Nathan Woodruff was very helpful and I definitely learned some things. For instance, I was under the impression that either your application was accepted and you received your patent or it was rejected and you were done. Not so our patent lawyer tells me. In fact a significant amount of the applications are rejected on the first examination. The next step is then to respond to the Examiner – and this process can be repeated more than once, and often is.

patent1Nathan suggested you could compare the process to selling your home. You as the seller are quite optimistic about the value of your home (idea), whereas the buyer (in this case the patent office) is quite pessimistic about that same value. After you go through the process – like multiple offers and counter offers – you often reach an understanding or agreement and potentially the patent application is approved.

The other thing that I now have a better understanding of is this whole notion of ‘patent pending’. In Canada you have up to 5 years to request an examination of your application. Responding to the Examiner just leaves your patent application in this pending state. I suppose one of the positives with this pending state is your idea or invention will not be published for the world to see. This may be important as you work on testing or perfecting the technical aspects or even your marketing strategy but ultimately you will not have the protection that a patent was designed to offer. You will not be able to defend or protect your idea/invention from those potential copycat competitors.

Something else you may want to keep in mind as with a lot of things, the longer it takes the more it costs. I am certainly wiser and I sure appreciated being able to call on an expert.

The Next Step for Your Great Idea

next_stepOK your idea passed the test. You did some research and it seems pretty unique. You have also decided your idea is something you are willing to invest in both with your time and a little money. Now what?

As I referred to in the blog post ‘So You Have a Great Idea‘ moving that great idea through to commercialization is a process and it can take years. For example the Smart Board that is now in many school classrooms and company board rooms was an idea that was first born in 1986. It was 1991 before the first interactive whiteboard was created and as I understand it a few years after that before the company was actually successful. Check out their story here.

For innovators that want to commercialize their idea the Canadian Innovation Centre suggests that kind of venture success depends on 8 big hurdles or factors and critical gaps in one or more of these factors significantly reduce the likelihood of success. Three of these factors are in the marketing realm, the rest concern the innovation itself, the customer, finances and whether the entrepreneur has the right stuff. Go here for the complete list.

Before you spend any money or any more time the next step should be to analyze the technical strength of your idea. To have commercial value your idea (and the resulting product or service) should solve a real problem. Not only that, it needs to somehow solve the problem better, cheaper, faster than current solutions. Keep in mind that current solutions have market share already backed by advertising budgets and even customer loyalty. Your solution even if it is better, cheaper, and faster needs to provide customers with a compelling reason for them to change otherwise it will be easier for them not to. It is also good to remember benefits are more important than features. People would buy a picture hanging tool with a level to hang pictures straight not because the tool comes in a nice storage case.

The technical analysis also involves determining whether or not your idea is physically possible. If your idea involves a process by which lead turns into gold perhaps a different approach will be necessary.  Interesting to note that a few patents have been abandoned because the inventor was unable to get a prototype to work. In other words the invention/innovation wasn’t technically feasible in the first place.

Remember this is all stuff you do before you have spent any real money. Before you have invested so much of yourself you can’t let go no matter what the consequences. Not understanding how important preliminary research is could only cost you mega dollars in the end.

If you get to this point and you want some help or advice please send me an email at janet@bluecollarconsulting.ca and I would be happy to help.

What’s your Action Plan for being Innovative?

weldingWhy be Innovative?

In business, the fundamental answer is to survive.  Whether it’s the rising costs of doing business or customers wanting more but not willing to pay more, or yesterday’s solutions don’t seem to solve today’s problems anymore,  organizations need to be competitive and one of the best ways to be competitive is to be innovative.

So how innovative does my company, team or yourself need to be?  Not too much: being innovative in the right way in the range of 3% of your resources has the potential to keep your company fresh and more competitive.  Too much innovation will disrupt your company’s routine and practices that were put in place to run the business efficiently and effectively.

Organizations need to be energetic and purposeful in moving forward new ideas.

Now is the Time-8

It is at times like this when some of our industries are experiencing a major ‘slowdown’, that we see companies as not being as competitive as they could be. We know that in good times, companies are often too busy to think and act on innovation. They are usually filling orders and struggling with manpower allocations.

Now is the right time for companies to look into ‘the right new ideas’ to be competitive.

For some companies, the challenge will be unless the company has an action plan for innovation, it will struggle with answering what are the ‘right new ideas’.

Alberta Innovates Technology Futures can help.

AITF is asking organizations in the Grande Prairie region to continue to lead new innovation initiatives to help businesses be competitive through Innovation Networks that lead and facilitate organizations that can help business explore and act on the ‘right new ideas’.  Innovation networks recognize that the region’s business health or competitiveness depends on strengthening its innovation capacity and creating more problem-solving and knowledge-based people and businesses. The region and province are shifting away from just possessing raw materials and looking to adding value to what it has through knowledge based factors.  Those knowledge-based value-adds are lowering our production costs and/or adding value to what the customer wants: hence making your business more competitive.

Now is the Time-11So as a business owner, how innovative do you want be?  Or another way to ask this is, how much innovation can your business handle without damaging the company or worst, bankrupting it?

Innovation to be successful within a business needs to be strategic.  You fortunately do not have unlimited resources to do ad-hoc innovation in every which way and on every idea.  So where do you get help?

Give us a call at 780-539-2718: you can explore and define what type of innovation will work best for your company and how best to establish your innovation action plan.

Now is the Time-14

An effective role for innovation networks to play in supporting innovation is to supply an environment in which innovation can flourish.

 When a company embraces innovation, you will be asking yourself many questions on your path to moving innovative ideas forward.  Regional Innovation Networks are all about moving innovation forward.

The Impact of Technology

impactA few months ago I entered into a venture that I had done previously almost 20 years ago. What I found quite interesting was while many things remained the same, the impact that technology had with regards to many of the business processes was astounding. Some of the things that were quite successful back then were at best marginal when repeated today.

There is a lesson there. In this digital age I think we need to reevaluate regularly not only our processes and procedures but perhaps our ideas as well. Are there some activities we are currently undertaking that are better delivered in a different format or by someone else? Do the clients that are contacting the CRI today have the same needs as those who contacted us a few years ago? Or with the amount of information on the internet are innovators finding the information they need through Google or a similar search engine?

Today we can search patent databases ourselves without ever having to contact a patent lawyer. We can also search for our idea on the internet – before we invest time and money only to find out it has already been invented and commercialized.

Unfortunately for many of us our idea is attached to a dream that someday it will make us rich or perhaps even famous. When we begin to act on that dream by searching for it on the internet we risk destroying it when we discover that someone else has already taken our idea to the next step .  For those of you who are courageous enough to do that only to find your dreams shattered perhaps instead it could be viewed as a suggestion to reevaluate that idea. If that idea needs to be discarded it is only so another can take its place.


Are you ready? Commercializing Your Idea

dolliesFor most of us when we come up with a great idea for an innovation or invention the objective is to eventually make money from it. But before we invest any money of our own (or someone else’s) it is wise to invest a bit of time to first analyze the invention along the entire commercialization process. To have commercial value the product must solve a real problem. Not only that, it needs to somehow solve the problem better, cheaper, faster than current solutions. Keep in mind that current solutions have market share already backed by advertising budgets and even customer loyalty. Your solution even if it is better, cheaper, and faster needs to provide customers with a compelling reason for them to change otherwise it will be easier for them not to.

Once you are confident it passes that test then you need to determine if your idea is physically possible. Interesting to note that a few patents have been abandoned because the inventor was unable to get a prototype to work. They might have had a great idea that solved a real problem but the invention/innovation wasn’t technically feasible in the first place.

Next step, providing the idea solves a real problem and it’s doable, is to figure out exactly who will buy it. Not just who would use it, although that needs to be considered too. Next question: are there enough of these customers to justify going ahead with the idea? This is the Market Feasibility.

Financial viability refers to whether there is sufficient potential to earn a profit from the innovation or invention to warrant an investment. First what are all those customers willing to pay for your solution? The patent lawyer we refer people to tells a great story about an invention that the inventor managed to get Canadian Tire to purchase and resell. While customers loved the idea it turned out that they would gladly have paid $100 for it but the $300 price tag was just too much so no one bought it. A combination of what will the invention cost, what will people pay for it, and is there enough of a market to justify all the investment required to set things up is Financial Viability.

All this work needs to be done upfront – before you invest money or even any significant time. What you discover here may strongly suggest you get another idea or it may indicate you need to delve deeper into each area and actually invest some time and money pursuing your idea.

Looking to Get a Patent?

patentRecently I met a very focused inventor looking to get a patent on his idea. After our conversation I thought perhaps there are a few more potential inventors that could benefit from what we discussed. Let’s start by looking at things through the eyes of the Patent office. Basically the Patent Office will only award a patent for a ‘solution to a problem’. Therefore the first thing I strongly recommend is you determine what the problem is and why your idea is a solution. This is more than just a test for a patent, it is basic sales 101. The objective for most people is to make money from their ideas in whatever form that takes. If your great idea doesn’t solve a real problem chances are it doesn’t have the kind of value you are hoping for. (For a detailed explanation on what exactly a patent is check out the Canadian Intellectual Property Office explanation here.)

Patents can be very costly and are not the only way to protect intellectual property. It’s very important to do the research first.  Basically the Patent Office will apply three tests to your application to determine whether or not you will receive a patent. First is the solution to the problem new? There must be no other patents that suggest the same solution to the same problem. This is where the research is important. You can start by searching for Canadian patents on the Canadian Intellectual Property Website. I would also suggest searching on the United States Patent and Trademark Office website as well as Google Patents.

Next the Patent Office will determine if the solution is useful. This means the problem must be clearly identified in the patent application as well as how your solution solves that problem. Finally the solution must not be obvious. This is a little trickier to explain and adds a level of complexity to the process. (I suspect this is the reason over 90% of patent applications use a registered patent agent.) If teachings from 2 or more patents can be combined to arrive at your solution then it would be obvious. That being said inventions do not occur in a vacuum and there is always some background of previous patents (referred to as prior art). Most patents are granted for incremental improvements.

As always things are never as simple as they seem and often expert advice is needed. GPRC’s Centre for Research & Innovation has partnered with the firm of Thompson Woodruff Intellectual Property Law to assist inventors in our region. I encourage you to check out their web site as it contains some great information.


Are Patents a Sword or a Shield: yes, no and maybe?

imagesA recent article in the Alberta Oil Magazine titled “Do patents enable innovation or stifle it?” by Jay Smith and Max Fawcett,  spurs one’s curiosity .

 ‘Cory Fries,  the vice-president of corporate and legal services at Alberta Innovates Technology Futures, says the table stakes on patent litigation make it risky for those who don’t have the budget for it. “It’s a very specialized type of litigation, and those types of lawyers are very expensive,” he says.’

You can answer the patent debate  ‘yes, no and maybe’ depending on your circumstances and viewpoint.

What comes of asking yourself a question like that is you start to explore and understand the value of a choice, in this case patents, in the context of what you hope to achieve.

When a company embraces innovation, you will ask yourself that question and many others on your path to moving innovative ideas forward.

Across Alberta, there are numerous organizations that can help move your innovative idea forward and in doing so, help you build and act on an innovation action plan.   Alberta Innovates Technology Futures (AITF) and Alberta’s Regional Innovation Networks are examples of organizations that help companies view challenges as opportunities and encourage companies to be curious about how they can improve their business operations.

Companies know that resources are limited and should not be wasted.  This strengthens the need to be curious, creative and innovative.

Alberta’s innovation ecosystem can answer quick questions, but more importantly is structured to build resource teams around the innovative SME (small –to-medium enterprises).  The teams can be based on industry sectors, technology, markets, financing and more: often the best teams comprise many disciplines.

Who can you talk to about Do patents enable innovation or stifle it?

Where are some of the ‘front doors’ to building your resource team?

Justin Riemer, ADM Alberta Innovation & Advanced Education, recently announced the province’s innovation ecosystem is streamlining its business and innovation pathfinding services by having the Alberta Innovates Connector service addressed by Business Link.   Further they have added  Connectica as a portal allowing innovators to network with SME innovation service providers.

At the regional level, the province has ‘front doors’ through its Regional Innovation Networks.   An example of a network in northwest Alberta is the Grande Prairie RIN led by the GPRC CRI.

In addition to championing the culture of innovation as a strategy in regional economic development, these organizations are very successful at helping the company build its innovation resource team to jump on opportunities, move innovations forward and grow more robust & competitive companies.

New ideas and opportunities surround us, so continue to be curious.  Consider building your company’s innovation team!