03 August 2013

The Inventors' Handbook

Source   European Patent Office, Inventors' Handbook

Regular readers will have found a new panel to the left entitled "European Patent Office Guidance to Inventors" which contains links to the home page of "The Inventors' Handbook" and several of its chapters.

I don't know how many times I have visited the European Patent Office ("EPO") website during my career but I shouldn't be surprised if it is very much less than the number of hot dinners I have consumed in my lifetime. Yet it is only this morning that I stumbled on this handbook which contains some of the best advice available to inventors.  Had more inventors visited this useful little site there would have been more successful inventors and flourishing firms and far fewer business failures, broken marriages and nervous breakdowns.

The home page of the site summarizes everything the independent inventor needs to know about confidentiality, market research, working with others, business planning, raising funds, patenting and alternative IP protection and dealing with companies. I will take the last of those topics by way of example since unsuccessful negotiations with potential licensees and joint venture partners provides a large part of my work as an IP lawyer.

Probably the most misleading advice that has ever been given to inventors is: "build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door".  It is absolute nonsense.  The phrase is attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson but he was much too bright to have said such a thing.  What he actually said was
"If a man has good corn or wood, or boards, or pigs, to sell, or can make better chairs or knives, crucibles or church organs, than anybody else, you will find a broad hard-beaten road to his house, though it be in the woods."
Moreover, mousetraps were not invented until after Emerson's death.  

Much better advice comes from the EPO:
"If you want a licensing agreement with a company, you must:
  • Find the right companies to approach.
  • Approach them in the right way.
Finding suitable companies to approach may be harder than you think, because big, well-known companies are often the least likely to want to deal with inventors."
The page adds that  many inventors also make the mistake of approaching companies too soon, very few big companies genuinely welcome ideas and suggestions from outside their industry, smaller companies may be more receptive but there may be disadvantages in dealing with them too. Subsequent pages advise on how to make the first contact and conduct meetings.  Finally, there is some useful guidance on dealing with companies, negotiating licence agreements and reaching agreement.  Finally, in flat contradiction to the mousetrap misquotation, the EPO warns that companies "will never look at your invention and say: ‘This is so good that we must do it, no matter what it costs us!"

Much better for you to listen to this Emmerson:

If you want to discuss this article or anything to do with inventions you can call me on 020 7404 5252 during normal business hours or fill in my contact form.  Have a good weekend folks.  If you are going to a party tonight I hope it's as good as Emmerson's.

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