Inventors Eye


Business man dressed in pants, shirt and tie swimming underwater.

Be Smart While Swimming with Sharks

What's that ominous music playing in the background? Did a shadow just pass beneath the water? Stay calm because help is on the way.

In the reality-based television show "Shark Tank," inventors from across the country pitch their inventions to a panel of potential investors, looking for a billionaire to take an interest and invest in their products. But television isn't the only place this kind of feeding frenzy occurs. Every day at tradeshows and conventions, in boardrooms and on showroom floors, inventors make sales pitches to potential investors. What do the successful inventors often have in common? They know the most important aspect of safeguarding their product or service: they can tell the world with confidence that the invention is theirs because they have applied for or have been granted a patent.

As small business owners and inventors pitch their inventions to potential investors or partners, the question arises: what proprietary information, if any, should an inventor disclose? Some inventors feel inclined towards secrecy, because "If I keep it a secret no one will be able to steal it." That's true; however, if you keep it too secret no one will ever know about it either. So what's an inventor to do?

Protect your intellectual property! Independent inventors often first file for a Provisional Application for Patent. This is a cost-effective initial step towards securing patent protection. A provisional application establishes a "priority date"-a date that you can claim as the effective filing date when you later file a full, nonprovisional application. A provisional application also provides a 12-month period (and further extendable using the Extended Missing Parts pilot) to mark your invention as "patent pending," which is a strong warning to would-be infringers. With a provisional application, you can also disclose your invention to others without losing the ability to get a patent later.

Inventors may ask, "But if I make a disclosure without filing an application, don't I have a one-year grace period to file a patent application?" The answer is yes. In the United States you have a one-year grace period from the date you first publicly disclose your invention to when a patent application must be filed. But you need to be aware of a few things. The grace period is only for the invention disclosed. If you want to avoid triggering the grace period, the safest course is to file a patent application. And very important is to also remember is that if you plan to seek patent protection in a foreign country, you may be barred from doing that because the patent laws in many countries do not allow a grace period like the United States. These countries often require that your first disclosure of an invention is in a patent application. Learn more about international patent protection on the USPTO's website.

If you haven't filed for a patent, should you get nondisclosure agreements from anyone who's getting your product pitch? Nondisclosure agreements offer some protection and can be a way for you to safeguard your ideas and inventions. But if you're going on television or showing your invention at a tradeshow, you'd have to have every single person who will see it sign an agreement. That means every person who watches television or every person who goes to the tradeshow. Obviously that's impossible. Nondisclosure agreements can be useful tools, but not in all situations.

Visit the USPTO's Inventors Resources page to find out more about what help the USPTO provides independent inventors as they take their invention from idea to commercialized product. These tips and tools include:

Whether you're jumping into the tank for the first time or have already begun pitching your product, consider the available options to safeguard your inventions. Knowing that your intellectual property is protected while you pitch them will give you confidence and assurance that nobody can take advantage of you without risking strong legal consequences.

Michael Razavi : Office of Innovation Development

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U.S. Patent No. 8,289,443. Mounting and bracket for an actor-mounted Motion Capture Camera System. Illustration of head wearing camera apparatus.

Patents Pick-5
Behind the Curtain
Film Patents

Pass the popcorn and get ready for some special effects! A lot of fascinating inventions keep us entertained at the box office.

Hollywood's award season has come and gone, but World IP Day on April 26 celebrates the silver screen and the intellectual property that has made it possible. This issue's "Patent Picks" focuses on patents that have enhanced filmmaking over the past 100 years. From new innovations in camera technology to motion capture devices that have become the norm in Hollywood, these patents have undoubtedly shaped the movies we love to watch. Here are my top five film-inspired patent picks!

Note: This article is part of an ongoing series detailing some of the Inventors Eye staff's favorite patents. For each article, the writer selects his or her five favorite patents under a given theme. This list is from Inventors Eye graphic designer-animator Messina Smith.

U.S. Patent No. 2,198,006
Control Device for Animation

The multiplane camera was patented by William Garity in 1938 for Walt Disney Productions. It has seven different layers and a moveable camera that shot vertically, creating an illusion of depth that had so far been impossible to obtain in animation. The first test film for the multiplane camera was the Silly Symphony cartoon "The Old Mill," which won the Academy Award for animated short film in 1937. Following the success of "The Old Mill," Walt Disney used it in his production of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," and the rest is history. In today's animation, the illusion of depth is created using computers, but the multiplane camera stands out as one of the most important innovations in animation.

U.S. Patent No. 2,224,901
Camera Dolly

In the film industry, a "tracking shot" is made using a camera mounted on a wheeled platform, known as a camera dolly. Before 1907, this innovation didn't exist. Camera angles were stuck in one spot. By using a camera dolly, directors were able to follow the action and create dynamic sequences. Today, dollies have four wheels and can be moved in any direction, whereas the original was used on round rails to create a smoother movement. Dolly shots are the norm for audiences today, but their introduction to moviemaking was a game changer for filmmakers and moviegoers alike.

U.S. Patent No. 4,017,168
Equipment for use with Hand-Held Motion Picture Cameras

In the past, filmmakers trying to accomplish a "tracking shot" had two options: use a camera dolly (see above) or hold the camera while moving, which creates the shakiness that can be seen in home videos, documentaries, and similar film footage. Hollywood cameraman Garrett Brown's 1975 invention of the Steadicam solves this problem. His system uses a harness to hold a camera, monitor, and battery pack, which all counterbalance each other and absorb shock. The operator wears the harness and is able to shoot smooth, gliding footage while on the move. Many famous movie scenes have been made using this technology. During the iconic training scene in "Rocky," Brown filmed while running alongside Sylvester Stallone up the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The speeder bike chase scene in "Return of the Jedi" also used a Steadicam. During filming, Brown walked through a forest shooting film at 1 frame per second, which created the illusion of a high-speed chase. In 2013 Brown was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame at a ceremony hosted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

U.S. Patent No. 5,222,059
Surround-sound system with motion picture soundtrack timbre correction, surround sound channel timbre correction, defined loudspeaker directionality, and reduced comb-filter effects

Anyone who has been to a cinema in the last 20 years has probably seen the THX logo appear on the screen along with a deep tone that gets progressively louder. This audio quality control system was invented by Tomlinson Holman for Lucasfilm in 1983. It was designed specifically for the release of "Return of the Jedi" so across the country, no matter the theater, viewers would hear sound reproduced the same way. This technology helped standardize audio across the board, improving the movie-watching experience in theaters and at home.

U.S. Patent No. 8,289,443
Mounting and bracket for an actor-mounted Motion Capture Camera System

Motion capture is a big player in the making of today's movies. Gollum from "Lord of the Rings," the Na'vi in "Avatar," and the Hulk in "The Avengers" were all created using this technology. Prior to computers, animated films relied on a system called "rotoscoping,"where actors were filmed and then animators would trace over the film frame by frame to get realistic movement from their characters. Today, actors are outfitted with body suits containing special markers that track their movement and recreate them in a digital model. The device covered by this recent (2012) patent affixes markers to the actor's face and captures facial expressions and features using small cameras that extend from a head piece. We'll likely see many more patents related to motion capture as the technology's prominence increases in the coming years.

Messina Smith : Office of Innovation Development

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John Calvert of the USPTO's Office of Innovation Development.

Spark of Genius
A Career Igniting the Inventive Spirit

In this special edition of Spark of Genius, Inventors Eye honors an individual who has helped spark the passion for innovation in countless inventors and business owners across the country.

For the past four years, our "Spark of Genius" stories have featured individuals who have successfully created new inventions, launched companies, and in some instances changed our lives with their innovations. We've brought you their stories in an effort to inspire future inventors. Our story this time is about one of our own, a man who has inspired and encouraged many of us here at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to think like an inventor. He taught us to better understand and appreciate the challenges faced by inventors and to come up with ways to assist and encourage them to move to the next phase in realizing their dreams.

We want to share his story because at the end of June 2014, he will retire after a very successful 24-year career at the USPTO. Many of you may know him or know of him, but if you don't, let me share a bit about my colleague John Calvert, Senior Advisor for the Office of Innovation Development and OUR spark of genius.

John joined the USPTO in 1991 as a patent examiner, reviewing applications in the fields of wearable apparel and textile manufacturing, thermal and combustion technology, and motive and fluid power systems. I used to tease John, "So you examined sewing machines, socks, and underwear?" His return quip would be, "I (as a patent examiner) examined in the early soft-wear arts!" But his expertise was actually much more expansive. John moved up the ranks, serving on a variety of work assignments throughout the USPTO, but it wasn't until he became administrator for the Office of Independent Inventor Programs (now the Office of Innovation Development) that he realized his real passion: helping inventors understand the patent process.

In 1999, the USPTO created the Office of Independent Inventor Programs and John became a resource for its efforts to assist inventors. Over the years, he has given presentations and led workshops for inventor groups across the country, explaining the patent process and answering inventors' questions. In the early days, I prepared his travel arrangements, and he would tell me he wanted to go "south in winter and north in the summer." Unfortunately for John, it never really worked that way. One time, I sent him to Bismarck, N.D., in January. With the wind chill, it was -20 F. Sorry about that, John.

He enhanced the Inventors Resources pages of the USPTO website to include plain language text about the patent process, created podcasts and computer-based training modules, and also helped develop the IP Awareness Assessment Tool in partnership with the Manufacturing Extension Partnership at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. All of this was to assist inventors and small businesses through the journey of innovation. One of our early podcasts was quite popular and received a lot of views, but it also showed our inexperience at the time. John and his co-presenter were both filmed wearing dark suits on a dark backdrop, and the final result appeared to be two talking heads without supporting bodies!

John has a passion for teaching. As a job recruiter for the USPTO, he traveled frequently to universities and quickly realized that students often created intellectual property in their engineering and design classes, and many had questions about patents. This led John to expand our university outreach efforts to engineering and law schools to educate students about the patent process. Oftentimes these trips crammed multiple lectures in multiple classes with hundreds of students. Occasionally, John had no voice upon his return-and if you know John, you know that not talking is truly out of character for him!

John has been a part of all 18 independent inventor conferences the USPTO has hosted. (One year we did a conference while a large Star Trek convention was also happening in the same city. It made for some great pictures, but that's another story!) As the conferences have grown, so has John's "rock star" status. I've participated in 15 of the 18 conferences, and have seen attendees literally follow him back to the hotel to continue conversations and ask more questions about the patent process. Over the years, John and I developed a sign to keep things moving. John knew if I gave him "the sign" it would be time to tell the group, "I have to go or Cathie will get me," but even that didn't always work. I often had to pull him away from the crowds. He has always been very generous and genuine with his time and information, and many inventors have learned and benefited from his expertise.

During implementation of the America Invents Act (AIA) of 2011, John was instrumental in standing up the Pro Bono Program and a revamped Ombudsman Program as prescribed in the AIA. The Pro Bono Program is near and dear to John. Over the years, one of the comments the USPTO has heard the most is that "it costs too much to get a patent." Creating and shepherding the Pro Bono Program allowed John to put some muscle behind one of his frequent statements, "so no deserving invention lacks patent protection as a result of the inventor being financially under-resourced." To date, the Pro Bono Program serves 20 states and connects low-income inventors with volunteer pro bono attorneys.

Throughout his career, John has received recognition with a U.S. Department of Commerce Bronze Medal award, a USPTO Exceptional Career award, and most recently the U.S. Department of Commerce Gold Medal award for his leadership in developing the Pro Bono Program. The Gold Medal is the highest award given to employees by the Department of Commerce.

John has been a true and tireless champion for independent inventors, pro se applicants, and entrepreneurs. We wish him well and want to offer sincere and heartfelt thanks for his strong leadership, extensive efforts, and unfaltering guidance and vision as he passes the torch.

Thank you and good luck, John.

Enjoy your retirement!

Cathie Kirik : Office of Innovation Development

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12 More Months. 12 month calendar above text.

Extended Missing Parts Pilot Program Renewed for 2014

Are you looking for a way to increase your options and maximize your resources as you protect your invention? This pilot program might be for you.

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Women's Entrepreneurship Symposium. May 30-31, University of Denver.
events and announcements

April and May

Upcoming events and news in the world of innovation

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Organizations and resources for the independent inventor community

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The USPTO gives you useful information and non-legal advice in the areas of patents and trademarks in Inventors Eye. The patent and trademark statutes and regulations should be consulted before attempting to apply for a patent or register a trademark. These laws and the application process can be complicated. If you have intellectual property that could be patented or registered as a trademark, the use of an attorney or agent who is qualified to represent you in the USPTO is advised.

In this issue
Be Smart While Swimming with Sharks
Patents Pick-5
Behind the Curtain
Spark of Genius
A Career Igniting the Inventive Spirit
Extended Missing Parts Pilot Program Renewed for 2014
events and announcements
April and May


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