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The USPTO has several programs to help inventors strapped for cash.
Guest post by Kathy Matecki, Director of USPTO’s Technical Center 3600
Independent inventors and small business owners have a long tradition of creating innovative products and opening up new sectors of the American marketplace. Some of today’s most well-known companies and innovators started small in someone’s garage or basement. Many patent applicants enlist the help of a registered patent attorney or agent. Some inventors, however, choose to file an application for a patent on their own, a process known as “pro se” filing.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO) Pro Se Assistance Program provides dedicated educational and practical resources to pro se applicants, including walk-in assistance at USPTO’s headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, pro se-specific educational resources on patents and electronic filing, dedicated customer service and assistance, and increased examiner-applicant interaction.
Established in October 2014, the USPTO’s Pro Se Art Unit is a group of experienced patent examiners from all engineering disciplines. The examiners in the art unit communicate frequently with their inventors, get to know them, and are dedicated to simplifying the patenting process and providing the best possible experience for each one, even when the inventor is unsuccessful in obtaining a patent. The program has helped identify the most common problems encountered by these applicants, so that the USPTO can simplify the process if possible, or establish best practices to assist pro se applicants.
The Pro Se Assistance Program has received positive reviews since its inception. One pro se applicant stated, “Had my examiner not been so understanding and helpful in every regard, I would have given up. She was patient, and I feel incredibly lucky to have worked with her… I would not be able to afford the legal fees associated with a patent, so that would have been the end for me.” The examiners have also felt the impact of the program; one stating: “We provide an important service (with a smile) to a not previously addressed cross section of applicants at the office, while still producing a quality examination. The impact of this service may or may not be captured by data crunching, but it is without a doubt felt by the community of pro se applicants that we have encountered in our year and a half of operation.”
The USPTO’s Pro Se Assistance Program is just one of many programs the USPTO offers that benefit independent and under resourced inventors. Another popular program is the Patent Pro Bono program, which provides legal assistance to under-resourced inventors. For more information on the Pro Se Assistance Program, visit the website, call 1-866-767-3848, or email email@example.com.
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Toy Box Looking for Inventins
ABC’s The Toy Box is now accepting submissions from toy inventors who want the chance to have their toy made by Mattel and win up to $100,000. Currently airing on ABC Fridays at 8/7c and hosted by Eric Stonestreet, The Toy Box is a new competition series featuring toy inventors competing for their big idea to be brought to market by one of the world’s biggest toy companies.
Check out this new video from Jim Silver, mentor on The Toy Box and one of the nation’s preeminent experts in play, as he gives advice to the inventors nationwide hoping to pitch their toy on national television.
If it would be a dream come true to see your toy on shelves across the country, apply at http://www.toyboxcasting.com by April 24th.
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Free Invention Evaluation
Ten Points in this Preliminary Invention Evaluation
Do you want a free invention evaluation on the 10 points covered below by Don Debelak. Send your name and email to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send you a confidential agreement. Once you get that you will be able to send in your product information.
Here are 10 points I use for an invention evaluation whether or not an idea is worth pursuing. Note that this is not a criteria if you have a great invention or not. Instead it focuses on whether or not you have a product that will be easy for an underfinanced inventor to introduce.
The product has the “wow” factor. When you have a product that does great things or meets important needs it will resonate with people. When you first thought of the idea, did your eyes open wide and did you say, “Yes this is it, I’ve got a great idea.”
People agree with your premise. Brad Young, the inventor of BandZ, an ear muff with built in headphones had the premise that people find it annoying to have to deal with both a hat and headphones in the fall. Do people agree with you premise? You need to ask at least 10 people and have five agree to believe you have a great idea.
The product offers a total solution. Cutting the number of products required for an activity from three to two isn’t all that impressive in the market, but you hit pay dirt when you cut the products needed to just one.
The product targets people with passion. Everyone is passionate about something and you want people you are targeting to be passionate about your type of product. When people care about a product category, they evaluate it closely, read trade magazines, go to trade shows, visit web sites and talk to like-minded enthusiasts. All that interest makes it easier for inventors to inexpensively reach their prospects.
The product relates to an emerging market. When the scrapbook industry started, dozens of inventors and new product entrepreneurs were able to introduce their product because there was a shortage of products to buy. That is not the case anymore, there are many established companies and the market is tough for a new inventor. Inventors have a great chance any time a market is emerging.
The product targets new trends in an existing market. This is similar to number 5, but it is in an established product. When golfers switched from pull carts to push carts, there were many opportunities for inventors, both for the carts themselves and for accessories such as cup holders, umbrella holders and baskets to hold supplies. I highly recommend that inventors choose one or two areas where they have a high degree of interest and the track emerging product categories and new trends. By tracking their passion, inventors will often find a winning product.
The product offers few technical challenges. Inventors can and do introduce technically difficult products, but this type of invention requires more money, more time and more expertise than most inventors have. Simpler products, like Rollerblades, are far easier to introduce for the average inventor.
Targeted customers can easily find the products. Products are easy to find when prospects can find them at specialty stores and catalogs. This is why inventors do well with kitchen products. There are many small stores that are relatively easy to sell to, and stores that prospective customers probably visit every three months or so. Eventually most inventors want to be in mass merchants, but typically they don’t have the money or product success to land in a mass merchant right away. So the key is to have a specialty chain of stores, or some popular web sites or catalogs to sell an unproven product.
The product conveys its major benefits quickly. Complex packaging, promotion and advertising are all expensive. But they are required when a product is difficult to understand. People should be able to understand your product immediately, within two seconds and without any explanation from you if you are going to succeed. Besides consumers, both retail stores and distributors are turned off by a product they just don’t understand.
The product avoids competitors with category dominating companies. You don’t want to try and compete with Rubbermaid, they dominate the market. These companies have broad product lines and get premium shelf space and they are not above complaining about any space given to a pipsqueak inventor trying to get started. If the dominating company likes your idea, they will try to figure out a way to get around your patents, and they will have lots of resources to come after with you.
This evaluation helps you decide if your product is worth developing further. This helps you decide if you should invest in a patent and prototype and spend three to twelve months developing your idea. Our next column in two weeks will take about evaluating your idea after it is developed so you can determine if you proceed with a market introduction.
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