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The Art of Invention


Inventing is hard work.

Many people think all you have to do to invent someting is to have a brilliant idea. That isn't true. Everybody has a brilliant idea from time to time. The trick for you as an inventor is, how can you transform your brilliant idea into something practical, useful, and marketable. Remember, the greatest idea in the world is useless if nobody wants it.

In order to qualify for a patent, patent rules require that a patentable idea must first be reduced to practice. This means that the idea has to be carried out in its entirety, at least on paper. This is the area where most people who have brilliant ideas, fall short. Reducing an idea to practice is not an easy matter. In fact, it is usually a most daunting and difficult task.

In the early days, the United States Patent Office required an inventor to build and submit two working prototype models to the patent office where they could be carefully examined and stored for later reference. Today, since it would be impractical for the U.S. Patent Office and all other patent offices around the world to physically warehouse the millions of objects of various sizes and shapes submitted for patent, this practice has been discontinued. However, in order to issue a patent, a patent examiner needs proof that the idea for which a patent is being pursued, will in actual practice, work. In a more practical sense, a patent document is like an instruction manual written to help anyone skilled in a particular art to build a workable model of the patented idea.

Ideas are important. Societies as a whole benefit from the practical application of good ideas. The purpose of patent law is to protect ideas. In the United States and most other industrialized nations, ideas are considered valuable personal property. The same laws that protect a person's right to own a home, land or other personal posessions, guarantee the same level of protection to an idea which has been patented. Although patents are granted to individuals and not to business entities, a current patent owner may or may not be the actual originator of the idea. This is because, just as with any other personal property, the owner has the right to sell the patent, give it away, or "assign" all rights to other individuals or businesses. So, it is important to know that the granting of a patent and patent ownership are two entirely separate, but distinct items. Thus, it is the owner of a patent, not necessarily the inventor, who has the "right" to prevent others from making, using or selling the idea covered by patent.

Since technology tends to change rather quickly, patent ownership has a limited life span. This time limitation is calculated to give the patent owner not only the needed protection fron possible infringement, but incentive to pursue the developement of the idea, something which usually requires a sizeable investment in both time and money. Because skill and risk capital are often needed to carry out a patented concept, businesses are often more able to develop patents than individuals.

We have all been struck by heroic stories about individuals whose ideas were considered worthless or impractical when they were first developed and patented. Through raw courage and determination, and against all odds, these unique individuals stuck faithfully with their dream until the task was completed--and today, we can't even imagine a world without their inventions. Without individual entrepreneurship, most of the great inventions which bless our lives today would never have been created. "Creativity," as one of my fine artist friends says, "is something you can't give away." But without question, creativity is to be admired, respected, revered, and yes, even coveted.

It has been said that "dreamers are the saviors of the world," to which should be added, "but not the wishful thinkers." Doing something to make a dream become real is nothing less than hard work.

Do governments have the right of iminent domain over patented ideas for the public good without having to deal with the patent owner? No. That concept has been tried again and again, but those countries who have tried to make the state the owner of ideas have in general failed.

Once an idea is reduced to practice, other elements enter the picture which make the patent either useful or useless. In order for an idea to become a success, it generally has to be manufactured and marketed. A person can have the greatest idea in the world or own a patent on a specific application of a patent, but unless someone is interested in investing in the idea, purchasing it or putting it to use, the patent is worthless. Right? Well, maybe not.

Some patents are a little different. For example: a concept which has a very broad application--meaning it is not limited to a single application--may be consided a pioneering, or primary patent. This kind of designation generally gives a patent greater standing and importance and helps the inventor by enhancing the patent's chances for success. Sometimes, a patent all by itself might not be useful unless it works in conjunction with other things.

When a patent is filed, a decision should be made as to whether or not the inventor wishes to obtain protection in other countries or even world-wide. This decision requires a great deal more work and involves a much higher commitment of financial resources, since each country has its own set of patent regulations and filing fees.

The degree of importance a patent gains is often reflected in the number of references to your patent cited by other patents. Since each patent contains a list of similar patents, the uniqueness of your patent may cause it to become a primary patent resource. Some patents may even represent themselves as an extension of your basic patent. In such cases, even though another patent exists which goes beyond your own, it may need to use your patent, or elements of your patent, in order to work.

Over the years, I have personally invented a number of different devices. Only a few were actually reduced to practice. They include a sculpture enlarging device, 3-D video projection systems, a steam or internal combustion engine I called the Elypticycle Engine, a rotory-vane engine, a magetic-internal combustion hybrid engine, and other various do-dads. Until just recently, I had never gone through the trouble of filing and receiving a patent. Why? Because in this instance, a mid-air collision killed 10 people including my flight instructor, From this tragedy and the many others which occur annually, I realized that many of the aviation and marine accidents that result in fatalities could easily be prevented. Although my invention has many applications and uses, as a pilot I basically invented the system because there was a need to prevent collisions between aircraft. So it is that "need is the mother of invention."

The invention covered within this Web page is called SCAN (Surveillance for Collision Avoidance Navigation). The idea is simple. But then, most great inventions are simple. On the other hand, it also has extremely broad application potential. Even though it is simple, SCAN has the capability to completely replace radar, old fashioned voice radios and emergency locting equipment. And all the parts will fit in one tiny inexpensive box. SCAN implementation would revolutionize the way air, marine, land, and even space craft currently conduct navigation, surveillance and communications. It is my prediction that SCAN would greatly improve transportation safety and result in a reduction of air related fatalities by about 50%.

The purpose of this Web Page is to inform users of the Internet about this new technology so that the second part of my dream may be born, i.e., the full implementation of SCAN in aviation before the year 2000. Don't worry, the process has already started. But I need your help.

As is the case with many inventions, my biggest challenge has been in learning how to deal with a controlling goverment agency where decisions more often seem based upon politics and vested interest than merit. Understandibly, where public safety is involved, government has a responsibility to create policy and to regulate. But the application of new technology should never be one of politics over substance. My problem has not been that the government is not interested in my technology, but that it is beginning to develop it through federally funded contractors irrespective of my patent.

Which brings up the last and most important test of a patent--litigation. At all costs, litigation should be prevented whenever possible. Litigation should be considered an inventor's last option because time and money spent in litigation are irretrieveable. Unfortunately, there are times when this is the only remedy. In such cases, it is incumbent upon the patent holder to seek the best legal counsel obtainable.

It is generally in everyone's best interest if a potential patent infringement issue can be resolved to the mutual benefit of all parties in advance of the need to litigate. But all too often, those who are infringing make a serious mistake in assuming there is nothing to worry about until they are actually confronted with a lawsuit. Sadly, people who work in government--who should respect patent law the most--are also the most tempted to ignore patents. Since they are not personally affected by patent infringement decisions, they may feel totally justified in ignoring a patent, thinking all along that they are really acting in the best interest of the country. Even when faced with a lawsuit for potential patent infringement, government workers may feel they have the unlimited resources of government with which to challenge an individual patent owner.

Many people mistakenly believe it is the responsibility of the patent holder to "prove" patent ownership. This kind of thinking is incorrect. The issuence of a patent document is an official government declaration of ownership of an idea. It is the same thing as a title to a piece of property. Unless successfully challenged in court or with the patent office, the patent holder owns the idea and has every legal right, under the law, to prevent others from making, selling or using the idea without his/her express permission. This applies as well to all agencies of government.

A patent holder who suspects that his/her patent is being infringed may have some responsibility to notify the potential infringer. That is often difficult because most companies like to keep new project development a secret until they are ready to market. Once again, the services of a proper legal counsel should be sought for guidance if possible patent infringement is suspected.

In my case, obtaining a patent and watching a technology shift over the past several years has been both satisfying and infuriating--satisfying because everybody loves my technology and a major technology push is taking place toward my patent, but infuriating because in spite of my efforts to work with the government agency which could derive the most benefit from my technology, the individuals involved seem intent upon forging ahead with my technology while ignoring me and my patent. Anyone who has received a patent and has tried to work with the government, particularly the FAA, probably feels much the same as I do.

If you are interested in my SCAN technology patent (5,153,836) or conducting any kind of patent research, this Web Page is set up with the proper links help you get started.

Have fun! But remember, if you are a pilot or anyone who loves aviation, I do need your help.

U.S. Copyright © 1996

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