Last Tuesday, several of the inventors and their supporters who had formed the Manchester Inventors Group met in Manchester Central Library to discuss the future of the Group. The acting chair, Stephen Mansfield, asked each person present why he or she had come to the meeting and what he or she wanted from the group.
Almost without exception the replies were advice and guidance and financial and practical support. There were one or two long and sorry tales of frustration and disappointment. All sorts of people were blamed for those failures including professionals, venture capitalists and the government. One person opined that inventors should be free to invent and that others ought to be concerned with commercialization. A few suggested a political approach such as inviting the deputy prime minister to Manchester so that he could learn of their needs first hand.
To the man who said that inventors ought to be left to invent and that others ought to be allowed to commercialize their inventions, I observed that that was the way in which industry works. Most successful inventions are actually made by bright young men and women with advanced degrees who are recruited from the best universities around the world. Others in their companies or universities apply for patents for their inventions and commercialize their work. These young scientists, engineers and technologists are paid reasonably well for their services - though usually not as well as the accountants, marketers and managers who commercialize their work - but that does not matter. They do what they like doing best which is to work on the frontiers of their science. It is possible for an independent inventor like Lemelson or a Dyson to do very well but it is a lot easier for an inventor like Sternbach who developed 241 new inventions for his employer.
The purpose of a patent is to confer a temporary competitive advantage upon a manufacturer as a reward for showing the world have to make how to make a new product or process. It is not intended to be certificate of attainment or honour like a degree or knighthood but a commercial advantage. It is very much a product of the modern capitalist system. Patents and trade marks did not exist for much of the history of the Soviet Union. There was no need for them when everything was made and marketed by the state.
Where there is demand for a patented product or goods produced by a patented process and the supplier of those goods has the means to enforce them, the rights conferred by a patent can be exceedingly valuable. Absent such demand and such means, a patent is otiose.
The lesson for inventors is to think less about the invention and more about the market. Is there an unfulfilled demand? Can I fill it? Can my solution be protected by law and if so how? How can I resource such protection? One of the reasons why I have set up groups like the Huddersfield IP Forum and assist groups like the Manchester and Leeds inventors is to put that message across. It is an important message and if taken to heart it will reduce considerably the bitterness of many talented and otherwise reasonable people.