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Patents Your Rights Online

Do Patent Laws Really Protect Small Inventors? 267

Posted by samzenpus
from the obvious-things-are-obvious dept.
whoever57 writes "Patent trolls like to claim that patent laws provide a way that small inventors can create products and benefit financially from their invention. One such inventor faces selling his house, despite inventing a product that has sold tens of millions worldwide. From the article: 'Inventor Trevor Baylis says he faces having to sell his house after failing to make money from his wind up radio and is now calling for the government to step into to protect inventors. “I’ve got someone coming around in the next couple of weeks to do a valuation on my house,” says Trevor Baylis, as he walks into the sitting room of his home on Eel Pie Island, in Twickenham, south-west London. “I’m going to have to sell it or remortgage it – I’m totally broke. I’m living in poverty here.”'"
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Do Patent Laws Really Protect Small Inventors?

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  • by SerpentMage (13390) <ChristianHGross AT yahoo DOT ca> on Sunday February 17, 2013 @04:10PM (#42930539)

    The question here is incorrect. The premise is whether or not it protects the small investor. Answer is yes. What the small investor can't do is afford a law team to defend the patent. This is the crux of the entire patent problem these days.

    • by SerpentMage (13390) <ChristianHGross AT yahoo DOT ca> on Sunday February 17, 2013 @04:13PM (#42930573)

      Before somebody says, "well your answer is wrong", remember this. If you had infinite sums of money could the patent be defended? Yes. Thus the problem is not the patent system per say, but the courts that cause these problems. Simply put what needs to be fixed is the fact that lawyers with big sums of money do not have an advantage that lawyers with small sums of money.

      • by theVarangian (1948970) on Sunday February 17, 2013 @05:41PM (#42931105)

        Before somebody says, "well your answer is wrong", remember this. If you had infinite sums of money could the patent be defended? Yes. Thus the problem is not the patent system per say, but the courts that cause these problems. Simply put what needs to be fixed is the fact that lawyers with big sums of money do not have an advantage that lawyers with small sums of money.

        Precisely... lawsuits in general are something the average citizen cannot afford if they drag on for any length of time. The legal system has become an instrument of extortion for rich people people with money to burn.

        • "The few practice lawful plunder upon the many, a common practice where the right to participate in the making of law is limited to a few persons." - Frédéric Bastiat, The Law

          And, by extension, participation in the legal system.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Aceticon (140883)

          I'm sorry, but if A depends on B and B is broken, then A is broken.

          If I make a car that can be bought for $100, but requires a special fuel additive that brings fuel costs to $1000 per galon to work it is in fact NOT a cheap car.

          As long as the patent system depends on an uneven and unfair legal system to work (and no measures are taken to ameliorate that), then it is an uneven and unfair system. No amount of excusing and "blame it on the other guys" will make up for the system having been setup in such a wa

    • by rtfa-troll (1340807) on Sunday February 17, 2013 @04:26PM (#42930651)

      The question here is incorrect. The premise is whether or not it protects the small investor. Answer is yes. What the small investor can't do is afford a law team to defend the patent. This is the crux of the entire patent problem these days.

      You are partly right. However, in this case the problem has started earlier and it really is the inventor. If you work in a big company and you come up with an invention your idea will go into the patent but you will put it through a patent expert. That person will take your work and turn it into something you don't recognize (there have been quite a few comments like that on Slashdot). What they are doing is taking your idea and generalizing it. They will ask "why did you use a spring" you will say "to store the energy". They will now take that patent and change it to say "in the preferred embodiment then energy will be stored in a spring, however one skilled in the art can also see that other methods of energy storage such as lifting a weight could also be used". Then, when the company changes your idea to use a battery instead that will fall under "other methods of energy storage".

      This is before you even get to the stage of losing out due to lack of lawyers to fight in court with.

      • So to get full protection, patents should become more vague and theoretical?

        • by XaXXon (202882)

          Yes. You get what you patent. It needs to be as general as possible without being so general that you can find prior art.

          Also, this is why there are independent and dependent claims in a patent. Basically you can have part of the claim be rejected but not other parts, as long as you properly draw the line when you're writing the patent.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by rtfa-troll (1340807)
          This has already happened. Try reading some random patents one day and you will see that you probably don't understand what they are about. This is especially true once you know that the only bit which matters, legally, is really the claims. Have a look at just the first claim (the first is normally the most general claim) of a random patent and see if you can understand what the original idea was. The original aim of the patent system was to ensure that inventions were recorded that might otherwise dis
          • by wvmarle (1070040)

            Actually I have read several patents over the years, including a few as part of a literature research on some subject I was working on.

            And I mostly did understand what was going on - as a GP mentioned a lot of the text will be phrases like "the preferred will be but may be within ". The "preferred" part is what is interesting, the rest you can ignore as it's there indeed just for preventing easy circumventions.

            The same for the drawings, it is very often "for example, a spring", where you just ignore the "

      • by houghi (78078)

        If you work in a big company (i.e. an employee), it is not your patent.
        If you work FOR a big company (i.e. a contractor or as an employee that dispatched from a subcontractor or similar), it depends on what your contact says and the specific situation. I am a lawyer and I can advice you. (Hey, I am on the Internets. I can be anything I like.)

        • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Sunday February 17, 2013 @05:41PM (#42931109)

          "If you work in a big company (i.e. an employee), it is not your patent."

          That is by no means a given in the U.S. It depends on many factors. The only time it is automatic (and not even all of those times), is if it came from work you do for the company, in the normal course of your duties as an employee, for pay, and there are no other agreements.

          If it is something you did on your own time, it only belongs to the company if you have a specific agreement saying that any inventions you create while in the employ of Company X belong to Company X. (Such agreements do exist, though I would never sign one. My father got screwed over by one of those. He threw his own time and expertise into inventing a tool that is now in common use, but the company got the patent rights because he had signed that sort of agreement.)

          Otherwise, if it is something you did on your own time, it is yours. But you might have to prove it in order to keep it.

        • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Sunday February 17, 2013 @06:01PM (#42931179)

          "If you work in a big company (i.e. an employee), it is not your patent."

          Let me give you a real example of what I was saying above. Just hypothetically:

          You work for McDonald's. Your contract says you were hired as a "cook" (you flip hamburgers), and there is nothing specific in your work contract about patents.

          Later, your manager somehow finds out about your degree in Mechanical Engineering, and asks you to give some thought toward improving a piece of equipment in the restaurant. He says he will pay your normal wages if you take some time during your shifts to find a way to make it better. In the process of working on that milkshake machine, you invent a gadget or process that makes it 50% more efficient (whatever that means for milkshake machines).

          McDonald's does NOT own any rights to the patent, because Mechanical Engineering is not "in the normal course of your duties" as a hamburger flipper. Even though you were specifically asked to do it, for pay.

          • by deimtee (762122) on Sunday February 17, 2013 @06:15PM (#42931229) Journal
            I think the company would argue that, and possibly win. Every employment contract I have ever seen has a line in there about "other duties as directed". If the manager asked you to improve it, and you did it while on the clock, it would probably come under that clause.
            On the other hand, if you saw something you thought could be improved and worked on it in your own time, that is yours.
            • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Sunday February 17, 2013 @09:39PM (#42932153)

              "I think the company would argue that, and possibly win."

              Companies HAVE argued that, and lost. That's why I wrote it.

              Admittedly, "normal course of your duties" can be a gray area. But that's why I used a pretty clear example: it cannot be reasonably argued that mechanical engineering is a "normal duty" for a burger-flipper at McDonald's.

              And they've tried the "other duties as directed" bit too. Sorry, but it won't wash. Normal means normal.

              • by deimtee (762122)
                Legally, you're probably right. But I think in practice it would generally be not so clear cut, and I think who actually filed the patent would be an important factor.
                If you are working on the milkshake machine and improve it, and your manager sees that and runs off and files a patent in the name of the company, then I think your would have a tough time reclaiming it.
                On the other hand, if you go off and patent it in your name before you show it to the company, you would have a much better chance of clai
            • by twebb72 (903169)

              On the other hand, if you saw something you thought could be improved and worked on it in your own time, that is yours.

              Until you realize that the court fees will bankrupt you because you're being sued by McDonald's. I think this thread has totally lost the spirit of the article.
              If you patented an invention that was remotely related to McDonald's, while on the clock or off the clock, while being employed by them or not; you LOSE in court. Period.

              • "If you patented an invention that was remotely related to McDonald's, while on the clock or off the clock, while being employed by them or not; you LOSE in court. Period."

                Not so. And if fact that's a pretty bad attitude.

                Example: you know that "burp tank" in your car? The one that catches the spillover when your radiator gets hot, then allows the cooling system to suck it back when it cools off?

                The guy who invented (and patented) it took it to every major automobile in the WORLD (at the time): General Motors, Chrysler, Ford, BMW, Daimler (that was before the Chrysler merger), Toyota, Honda, etc. They all turned him down. Yet... the next model year, guess what? Amazingly

          • Even though you were specifically asked to do it, for pay.

            That's almost a paraphrase of A href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Work_for_hire">"work for hire".

        • by Hognoxious (631665) on Monday February 18, 2013 @03:21AM (#42933377) Homepage Journal

          I am a lawyer and I can advice you.

          I think the word you're looking for is invoice.

    • by ShanghaiBill (739463) * on Sunday February 17, 2013 @04:29PM (#42930685)

      The question here is incorrect.

      The question is also misapplied. Trevor Baylis is not a good poster child for "ripped-off" inventors. First of all, he did not invent the wind up radio. [wikipedia.org] He just invented a more practical way of storing the energy (using a constant force spring). But his business partners decided his spring was too expensive, and replaced it with a conventional crank and used batteries to even out the power (the article calls this a "tweak"). In other words they did not use his invention. To suggest he is being "ripped off" because he is not receiving royalties from someone not using his patent is pretty silly.

      • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Sunday February 17, 2013 @05:19PM (#42930987) Journal

        I don't know whether there was any really nasty interpersonal knife-twisting and violatation-of-not-actually-contracts-but-verbally-they-felt-like-them in that specific case(which my account for some of the bitterness swirling around it; but I certainly wouldn't want to be 'guy with a clever mechanical power-smoothing technique' in a world where supercaps have become downright cheap, and the demands of digital electronics of various flavors have driven serious improvements in DC-DC conversion and various techniques for bludgeoning ill-mannered input power into nice clean low-voltage DC...

        The question that I'm left with is whether the spring arrangement was simply too expensive in absolute terms(ie, even if the 'intellectual property' were valued at zero, is the BOM cost of the spring +simpler electronics just higher than dumb crank + more sophisticated power conditioning apparatus) or whether this is a case where the patent holder, by holding out for more than he was worth, encouraged people to 'innovate around' the patent.

        • by icebike (68054) on Sunday February 17, 2013 @05:38PM (#42931091)

          He had already licensed the technology. He wasn't holding out. It was a simple bill of materials problem as you surmised.

          He failed to notice the electronics age obviated the need for a spring as an energy storage method.

          Since all he actually held a patent on was the clockwork for releasing spring tension, when that method became un-necessary, he lost out.

          John Hutchinson, chief technology officer at Freeplay, said Mr Baylis had voluntarily sold his shares in the company and that technology had moved on, leaving his original patent outdated.
          He said: “Freeplay developed its own technology and by 2000 no more clockwork radios were made. The method was to use human power to recharge a battery.

          I fail to see what his complaint in here. Competitors aren't using the ONLY thing his 40 year old patent covered.
          He had stock in the company that was making radios with his invention, and sold it. Had he held on to that
          he would still be making some money, or at least have a nest egg.

          I see nothing to complain about here.

        • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Sunday February 17, 2013 @05:48PM (#42931129)

          "... and violatation-of-not-actually-contracts-but-verbally-they-felt-like-them in that specific case..."

          Here is a little bit of Contract Law 101:

          If you agreed to something in good-faith negotiation, and there is "consideration" on both sides, and it doesn't otherwise violate law, then it's a contract. It doesn't have to be on paper. That piece of paper is nothing more than evidence of your contract; it is not, in itself, the contract. (Though it must be said that it can be pretty powerful evidence.)

        • by dbIII (701233)

          in a world where supercaps have become downright cheap

          Even if you saw that coming 15+ years ago the idea still had a bit of life before now when windup torches, solar garden lights etc are utterly trivial designs made from parts almost cheap enough to be given away with a box of cornflakes.

      • by jrumney (197329)

        The question is also misapplied. Trevor Baylis is not a good poster child for "ripped-off" inventors

        He's not a particularly good poster child for someone living in poverty either, living on his island on the Thames in South West London. He's just overextended his finances, and has an overextended sense of entitlement to match.

    • The question here is incorrect. The premise is whether or not it protects the small investor. Answer is yes. What the small investor can't do is afford a law team to defend the patent. This is the crux of the entire patent problem these days.

      That's not the whole answer. A small-time inventor can't protect himself/herself from patent trolls and patent-hoarding entities simply because they do not have the cash or other resources to do that. As the system stands it places the entities with huge arsenals of patents in a completely unreachable position and these small-time inventors at the rock bottom, favoring the established entities and basically telling small-time inventors not to bother at all. As such the issue is two-fold: they can't protect themselves, nor can they protect their own patents, leaving them all open and vulnerable.

      • And worse, all the major companies tend to cross license with each other. So the big boys don't sue each other as often as they should (round corners etc not withstanding). This puts the little guy at an even bigger disadvantage as they don't have a large patent portfolio to leverage.

      • When I worked for a big R&D firm, their basic rule of thumb was that a patent that you care about needs between £100,000 and £1,000,000 of capital sitting around to protect it. For a big company, you can amortise this, because you are unlikely to need to defend more than a few patents at a time. If someone infringes your patent, and you don't have a million sitting around to take them to court, then your best (financial) bet is to sell the patent to a patent troll that does. The big compa
    • by gmanterry (1141623) on Sunday February 17, 2013 @05:11PM (#42930949) Journal

      The question here is incorrect. The premise is whether or not it protects the small investor. Answer is yes. What the small investor can't do is afford a law team to defend the patent. This is the crux of the entire patent problem these days.

      No. this is the problem with American society now. Unless you are wealthy you can not win if someone with more money attacks you in the legal system. Even if you are 100% in the right the opposition can use their resources to drain what little money you might have and win any legal battle by just delaying and causing you to spend more money you don't have. This is not justice but it is the way the system works.

  • NO (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 17, 2013 @04:10PM (#42930541)

    They can't afford a lawyer.

  • Quick disclaimer: I am not an anything.

    Do Patent Laws Really Protect Small Inventors?

    No. Nor have I ever heard anyway claim that as being their primary function. Let's adjust that to say that patent laws are designed to promote innovation and invention by disproportionately reward the production of ideas compared to the actual work and creation being done. This, in theory, helps any size of inventor put in R&D monies to chase a high reward. And, yes, I do think they have been successful to some extent in doing this although there is plenty of evidence that they have gone too far as of late. They've also been applied to things that probably shouldn't be patentable like genes and software.

    One such inventor faces selling his house, despite inventing a product that has sold tens of millions worldwide.

    Pardon my anecdotal apathy but so what? Plenty of Americans squander money like it's nobody's business. I'd imagine there are tons of engineers out there that are brilliant inventors but either don't want to or fail to deal with money in a responsible manner. Hell, I've recently been collecting sketch card art and just totalled up my last six months spending. What the hell was I thinking?! American athletes can make millions in a single year and still end up penniless before the age of retirement!

    From the article: 'Inventor Trevor Baylis says he faces having to sell his house after failing to make money from his wind up radio and is now calling for the government to step into to protect inventors. “I’ve got someone coming around in the next couple of weeks to do a valuation on my house,” says Trevor Baylis, as he walks into the sitting room of his home on Eel Pie Island, in Twickenham, south-west London. “I’m going to have to sell it or remortgage it – I’m totally broke. I’m living in poverty here.”'

    Okay so this inventor is house broke -- he's got nice clothes, the article doesn't say he works three jobs. That leaves me a little curious so I inspected the article which had hilarious counter intuitive subtitles:

    He built a home on Eel Pie Island in the 1970s for £20,000

    Wow! That bit is interesting! So he lives on an island in the Thames in London?! Okay, I'm going to go ahead and gather that property taxes must be insane. Could he afford a house in the country? I mean, is he selling a house that he can no longer afford to buy a house in a cheaper neighborhood or is he genuinely poor? Which is it?

    The property also has a pool (Paul Grover)

    Uh, okay so add energy and water bills to the above.

    The prolific inventor earns money as an after-dinner speaker (Paul Grover)

    Okay so, has he tried getting a 9 to 5 job? I hate to be a dick but I don't think you can invent a particular modification of a radio in 1991 and a shoe that charges cell phones among "250 products" and expect to coast through life smoking a pipe and getting a bennie here or there for dinner speeches. I mean, those were the two most notable inventions?

    Furthermore how do his business mistakes equate to a breakdown of the patent system:

    Due to the quirks of patent law, the company he went into business with to manufacture his radios were able to tweak his original design, which used a spring to generate power, so that it charged a battery instead. This caused him to lose control over the product.

    Man, I wish PJ would deconstruct this so I knew what was going on. So what that tells me is that the novel part of his invention was the spring that generated power directly to the radio? And when the company found a different way to do that, they cut him out? Yeah, companies are going to try to screw you anyway they can. The problem is that this screwing could go the opposite way too. I mean, a

    • by rudy_wayne (414635) on Sunday February 17, 2013 @04:36PM (#42930729)

      I'll be the first to admit that the entire patent system is a horrible mess that is now doing more harm than good. But this story is about something entirely different.

      Out of 250 claimed "inventions", which include such nonsense as a "self-weighing briefcase", he invented one item, 20 years ago, which took off and sold fairly well, but has now been replaced by newer technology. Apparently he seems to think that he should be able to live forever on the royalties from that single 20 year old patent.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        A self-weighing suitcase, anyway, would be a great idea. Airlines have luggage weight limits these days, and the limits vary.

        On the other hand, you're right, there's no particular reason he should be set for life because of one invention, and if he didn't get a license that granted him royalties on derivatives that's a bummer, but it's his bummer.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 17, 2013 @05:00PM (#42930893)

        Not quite. His invention was storing the energy from the wind up in an efficient spring design. It was not the wind-up part itself. The manufacturer changed it to a battery system and cut him out. That is it. Even under his proposed solutions, which include a novelty requirement and much longer terms to patents, he wouldn't be covered. This is because his improvement was from cruddy batteries to a clockwork type spring system; their improvement was from clockwork type spring system to modern batteries. So, for him to win, you need to argue that the switch from battery to spring was a novel change, such that it is a completely different product, but the change from spring back to battery was not, such that it is a completely different product. I don't see how a rational person could say that one is and the other isn't.

      • Apparently he seems to think that he should be able to live forever on the royalties from that single 20 year old patent.

        He probably has friends in the music industry.
      • by houghi (78078)

        Stoopid him. It is a patent, not a song.

    • by openfrog (897716) on Sunday February 17, 2013 @05:04PM (#42930917)

      From the article:

      Mr Baylis has been lobbying for the patent system to become more robust and to turn the theft of intellectual property into a white-collar crime that carries a prison sentence... Currently patent infringement is considered to be a civil matter in the UK rather than a criminal matter... ...Students need to be taught about intellectual property in schools...

      Mr Baylis is representing himself as the small guy (incorrectly claiming the invention of the crank radio), making the exact case that the big guys are currently lobbying the government for.

      If Mr Baylis had been what he pretends he was, with the laws he is advocating for, he would have risked ending up in prison on top of losing his house.

      • Baylis' real problem is that he is acting as a lobbyist without getting paid for it... If he could get even a few patent trolls(sorry, sorry, 'non-practicing entities') kicking some 'consulting' fees his way, he'd be all set...

    • He built a home on Eel Pie Island in the 1970s for £20,000

      Wow! That bit is interesting! So he lives on an island in the Thames in London?!

      Yes, here is an example of a house [zoopla.co.uk] Eel Pie Island (It's not his, but I'm just linking to it as a reference point). Obviously, if he just sells his house, he should be able to rent something a bit more modest, and not have to work ever again for the rest of his life.

      The next thing he's going to tell us is that he's selling his Rolls Royce, just to be able to afford macaroni and cheese. For someone who didn't even invent the wind-up radio originally [wikipedia.org], but only invented a derivative of that idea (which is now n

      • by fatphil (181876)
        What Rolls Royce?

        "He has also been offered &#194;&pound;80,000 for his treasured Jaguar E Type"

        Damn, I wish I was in such poverty!
  • Eel Pie Island to make sure it was a real place and not some shit Apple Maps invented.

  • Answer: It Depends (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 17, 2013 @04:15PM (#42930587)

    It depends.

    On one hand, it seems that a small inventor should be able to develop, market, and sell an invention without a giant corporation coming along, copying the idea, and selling the same thing for cheaper, in higher quantities.

    On the other hand, it is damn near impossible to develop, market, and sell an invention today without "infringing" upon untold numbers of patents. Large corporations can play this game with their legal departments and large financial resources, but the small inventor is pretty much fucked.

    The only people winning at this game are the lawyers. Follow the money.

    It's a sorry and pathetic situation and I hope the western world's economy pays dearly for it in the years to come.

  • Short answer. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 17, 2013 @04:18PM (#42930611)

    No.

    I'm not trying to be sarcastic, but under current U.S. law, it's nearly financially prohibitive to defend against a claim.
    At this first to file is utter nonsense, too. Very bad. Let's throw out prior art.

    Not entirely related, but in the early 80's I was acquainted with author. He was approached by Disney to turn one of his
    books into a movie - paid him cash-money up front, too. Well, he's thinking 1-2 years... Still haven't seen the movie.
    There are companies stockpiling ideas out there like Real Estate - except'n they really ain't real. That's were the
    current suite of laws have led us - to this incredible stagnation. Oh, it'll take some time before the wheels finally grind
    to a halt, but they will....

    CAPTCHA = locust - there's never just one...

  • by Baldrson (78598) * on Sunday February 17, 2013 @04:19PM (#42930613) Homepage Journal
    Patent fees are the only asset tax imposed by the Federal government -- and they fall directly on those least capable of paying them at the same time as they fall on those we should least expect to pay them.

    Taxing the net liquid value of assets at modern portfolio theory's risk free interest rate, rather than taxing economic activity [blogspot.com], is the way out of this abominable situation in which independent inventors are put through the meat-grinder.

    Of course, the wealthy will oppose this in every way since they currently benefit from the protection of their property rights without having to pay for that protection, while those producing wealth pay the taxes.

    This means political solutions are out of the question.

    So, rather than having the corrupt, evil, stupid and/or ignorant drag down the rest of us into political economic Hell, all inventors should demand sortoracy: Sorting proponents of political theories into governments that test them. [sortocracy.org]

    • by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Sunday February 17, 2013 @04:31PM (#42930689)

      You do know that patent fees are on a sliding scale depending on the size of the patenting entity?

      http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/ac/qs/ope/fee100512.htm#maintain [uspto.gov]

      What kills the independents are the legal costs. They are generally 3 orders of magnitude larger.

      • by Baldrson (78598) *
        Even if there is no legal contention of the patent, the international patent fees, alone, place an already-strapped-by-development-costs independent inventor at the mercy of concentrated wealth.
      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        You do know that patent fees are on a sliding scale depending on the size of the patenting entity?

        That actually makes the situation worse, not better. If we have bad patents, it is because they are granted by the patent office. If they are granting bad patents, we have to look at why. The answer is obvious: they get paid for granting patents. This is, of course, patent bullshit, ha ha ha. They should get paid for patent applications, but not for refiles (maybe only if they are excessive.) That would encourage them to streamline the application process and it would remove the incentive to rubberstamp any

        • Fees include application and maintenance, not just issuance. It costs money to run the patent office, and these fees bear some relation to the costs incurred, which is as it should be.
      • by vakuona (788200)

        I would go further than the patent office though with its discount for small entities.

        I would have annual application and maintenance fees of $100,000 per patent. (This would stop companies hoarding patents, especially the like of IBM who are awarded on the order of 6000 patents per year.)

        To make this easier, I would have a discount on the 1st 100 patents owned per individual or corporate entity, e.g. $100 per patent.

        I would base this on beneficial ownership, so basically, if you own the patent, or license

  • Radios with a generator charger aren't new. I had one in the 1980s, and they go back at least to WWII. The problem was that no battery charging occurs unless you're cranking hard enough to get the generator voltage above the battery voltage. Then you have to have a governor or voltage limiter to prevent overvoltaging the battery. So you have to crank at just the right speed, and there has to be a mechanism to enforce this.

    So this guy used a clockwork mechanism with a big spring to power a small generato

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      The OLPC has a gadget like that.

      Yes, they do, but they only used it for the XO-1. Their new machine won't support it. They have lost their way.

    • The battery versions defeat a part of benefits, though.

      The whole point of the spring was to be simple and low-tech. These are supposed to be low-maintenance radios that not only can be used in remote areas without power supply, but also can be stored away for years and still be expected to work when needed.

      I'm pretty sure that in a low-technology environment, you're more likely to be able to repair or replace a spring with local materials than a battery and charge pump.

      I'm kind of upset that no one makes t

      • by wvmarle (1070040)

        Assuming one uses good quality components, the ultra capacitor and crank-powered charge pump should outlast the spring solution, for the simple reason that it has less mechanical parts. And the parts that can break are the crank and the generator - and those are present in the spring version as well, so any repairs are just as hard.

        What used to be high tech 40 years ago, or didn't even exist yet, is normal off-the-shelf tech now.

    • A hand crank-generator-battery system does not require care to prevent damage to the battery in most cases. The battery's IV curve takes care of all the limiting required, and you're not going to overcharge the battery because it takes one hell of a lot more cranking to overcharge the battery than it does to pump it up enough to get it to run for a few minutes.
  • by Grond (15515) on Sunday February 17, 2013 @04:38PM (#42930737) Homepage

    A patent is not a substitute for a viable business model. One cannot simply receive a patent and wait for the money to roll in, especially not as technology changes around you, quite often in order to work around your patent.

    In this case, in 1991 Baylis invented a generator that was based on storing energy in a spring, then using a system of gears to release that energy steadily to power various devices such as a radio. But by 1995 wind-up radios were on their way out and by 2000 they had been entirely replaced by battery-based radios. His invention was a flash in the pan.

    So Baylis had a nice idea, made some decent money off of it, but failed to turn that into a sustainable career. Now he wants the entire UK patent system modified in order to rescue him from his misfortune.

    • by stenvar (2789879)

      Wind-up radios have been around for a long time and will continue to be around. Baylis didn't invent them, he came up with another way of building one (using a spring for energy storage). It turned out his way wasn't as efficient as other ways (using a capacitor / battery for storage), so he didn't make much money.

    • A patent is not a substitute for a viable business model. One cannot simply receive a patent and wait for the money to roll in, especially not as technology changes around you, quite often in order to work around your patent.

      In this case, in 1991 Baylis invented a generator that was based on storing energy in a spring, then using a system of gears to release that energy steadily to power various devices such as a radio. But by 1995 wind-up radios were on their way out and by 2000 they had been entirely replaced by battery-based radios. His invention was a flash in the pan.

      So Baylis had a nice idea, made some decent money off of it, but failed to turn that into a sustainable career. Now he wants the entire UK patent system modified in order to rescue him from his misfortune.

      His original idea was a wind up radio for areas where batteries are hard to get ahold of. Another motivation was that batteries are not exactly affordable in many poor communities in developing countries and people in the these communities have to spend a significant amount of their disposable income to buy batteries, a fact that seems to be hard to understand for 1st worlders who buy batteries by the dozen and throw them away without a second thought. At least that's what Baylis claimed in an interview I w

  • by Murdoch5 (1563847) on Sunday February 17, 2013 @04:42PM (#42930777)
    A Patent doesn't protect an inventor, it protects the idea! If the inventor can't sell, market or project his idea then it's not the systems fault they go broke. Blaming the patent for not working doesn't give the inventors a sense of business. inventors can't just be tech guys, they need to also be buisness guys
  • by um... Lucas (13147) on Sunday February 17, 2013 @04:45PM (#42930799) Homepage Journal

    He said it himself:

    "“I was very foolish. I didn’t protect my product properly and allowed other people to take my product away."

    He was foolish. Enough said. If you don't take advantage of the laws and protections that you're afforded, and then you get screwed, it's not a failing of the laws, it's a failing of the inventor.

  • by Animats (122034) on Sunday February 17, 2013 @04:48PM (#42930813) Homepage

    Speaking as an inventor with six patents, it's hard to enforce a patent until you have $100 million in infringing activity. In practice, almost everybody who gets a royalty deal gets about 5%, +- 2%. (There's a whole theory of IP valuation, but it's not taken very seriously.) So 5% of $100 million is $5 million. Expect legal fees of about $2 million. So you make about $3 million, best case. It's fully taxable, so you get to keep about $2 million. The odds of winning a patent case are about 30%-40%, So the expectation is about $700K on $100,000,000 in infringement.

    I've licensed two patents. One I swapped for stock in a startup, and that came out very well. There I wrote one of the startup's products. A straight licensing deal on another made me about $400K after taxes; that was partly about getting my product off the market so it didn't compete with theirs. I'm working on licensing the other patents.

    • by jrumney (197329)

      In practice, almost everybody who gets a royalty deal gets about 5%, +- 2%. (There's a whole theory of IP valuation, but it's not taken very seriously.) So 5% of $100 million is $5 million. Expect legal fees of about $2 million. So you make about $3 million, best case. It's fully taxable, so you get to keep about $2 million. The odds of winning a patent case are about 30%-40%, So the expectation is about $700K on $100,000,000 in infringement.

      Ummm, no. 30-40% of the time you net $2M, the other 60-70% of the

  • I'm sure most will be complaining about patent laws but the problem is what's the alternative? Already Chinese businesses can have a knock off on the market weeks after you launch then flood the market. The joke is if you have it made in China there's an excellent chance the knock off will come out of the same factory using your tools. What option other than surrender does a small inventor have? For years now at best you had a year before a completing product and now I'd say it's 1 to 3 months. Considering
  • The purpose of the patent system in the 21st century is for big businesses to keep small competitors out of the field. If the inventor gets anywhere from it, that's nice to advertise, but it's nothing to do with what it's for.

    It's like copyright. If it benefits the actual artists, that looks good in the advertising, but if it ever does happen it's strictly a side-effect - it exists to benefit the publishers.

  • by cozytom (1102207) on Sunday February 17, 2013 @05:24PM (#42931003)

    Lets say someone invents the best thing ever, better than anything you could imagine. This thing will make people want to be with you, or leave you alone, as your preference. It will make food taste better, and you will be happy for the rest of your life if you use this thing. This person gets a patent on it, and sets up a factory to build these things. This person has a perfect business plan, the product price includes the R&D costs, some blue sky, and he pays employees a fair wage.

    Evil company X decides this product is easy to make (they read the patent, it was easy to figure out) so they set up a factory across the street, and sell the same thing at a lower price. They don't have any R&D (other than a read of the patent), they pay lower wages, and use cheaper packaging.

    No big deal you say, he has a patent on it. Ok, he calls his lawyer, and says, I need an injunction, and I want an infringement suit and I want treble damages. Law being a civil profession, his lawyer calls the evil companies lawyer, and they go to lunch (which our hero is paying for). His lawyer comes back, and says evil company X wants to go to trial. Our hero believes he will win, so of course he says yes, lets do it, we will get the injunction, and treble damages, I'll borrow money from whoever to pay for this adventure.

    The lawyers all have a few more lunches (not at McDonalds I can assure you), and they chat and scheme, and make a court date. Aha, in 7 months, there will be an initial trial to determine if the injunction can happen.

    During the 7 months, our hero has to sell his house borrow against the factory, lay off employees and pay the rest a little less. Evil company X announces a HUGE profit, and is setting up a second factory in Europe. The evil CEO now wants to live in France to educate his daughter, so he buys a chateau.

    Well the trial happens, and sure enough, our hero wins the injunction. Cool, now it is on to the civil phase, and the trial for the damages is scheduled for 9 months from now. The customers have all but forgotten our hero's products, and he doesn't have any money to advertise, or build new products, it is all tied up in lawyer fees (and lunches).

    Well, dang, evil company X has also run out of money, since they could sell anything, and they have this factory, and a second one in Europe, lawyers and employees to pay. But the CEO didn't sell his chateau, or stop educating his daughter, he just let the corporation file chapter 7 sells the factories to pay the lawyers, while he kept his money separate. He has partnered with some middle eastern investors and is helping them start a lesser evil company Y that makes the same product. This lesser evil company will use a factory in France and build a new factory in India, selling all over Europe and Asia importing the product into the US.

    The civil trial begins against evil company X, and no one from evil company X shows up. The judge rules in favor of our hero, awarding them 80 bazillion dollars, which becomes 240 bazillion dollars because it was willful infringement. Our hero is happy, and asks his lawyer to begin collection. The lawyer finds that evil company X has filed chapter 7 liquidation, and has no assets, so there will only be a judgment against them, but no real money will change hands. Because the liquidation happened before the civil judgement, it will be difficult to get anything.

    Meanwhile lesser evil company Y is importing this wonderful product into the US advertising and selling in the same stores as our hero's product. Our hero asks his lawyer to get another injunction, but this lawyer is no fool, wants his money up front still. Our hero doesn't have the assets to get any more money.

    Yes our hero was right, the patent protected him from honest people. The patent system doesn't protect anyone from a dishonest company. The legal system is slow, and painful. It can take years to be proven right, but still never see any money for being right.

    • This is absolutely not true, and I'm a pretty cynical guy. Law has not been a civil profession in quite some time; it's now a business. Law firms have the incentive of winning at all costs because that's how they get future business. There are no expensive lunches between opposing counsel. Rather, there are very expensive and nasty letters going back and forth about how the other guy's client is the most evil guy in the entire planet, and their claims are completely frivolous, how they're going to get stomp

  • Hero (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Trevor Bayliss is considered something of a British hero for his inventions. He gets wheeled out on TV whenever they want to portray the classic eccentric British inventor (and whenever James Dyson is too busy). The fact that he's broke will surprise a lot of people.

    But to be honest, he shouldn't be this position -- he has sufficient public image that he ought to be able to make a living on the public speaking circuits. Okay, so he wouldn't get the kind of money from it that Tony Blair is raking in, but he

    • by tibit (1762298)

      So, where's all the useful stuff he invented? Do I have any of that in my home? Do any of my neighbours do? Huh?

  • by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Sunday February 17, 2013 @07:14PM (#42931539)

    Condense the human interest story down, and what you have isn't entirely surprising: It's the story of an inventor who has decent enough technical skills to invent, but not the business skill to successfully profit from his invention. He has a patent, yes - but the patent does him no good because it is narrow enough that an alternative technology came along.

    I'm sure I'm legally simplifying the issue, but as best I can see his patent is for a mechanism that uses human power to wind up a clockwork mechanism to drive a compact dynamo. When batteries got more practical and cheaper, the 'clockwork' part was no longer needed. Now, if he were a businessman he would have made the patent as over-broad as he could and patented 'a mechanism for generating electrical energy from human input' or something like that, along with 'human powered radio,' 'human powered torch,' 'human powered general purpose charger' and so on.

    People here might start looking for some middle ground: A way to legislate patents broad enough to protect lone inventors, but not so broad as to be useable. But this middle ground doesn't always exist. It doesn't in this case, because what he invented isn't really that great. All he did was take a hand-wound clockwork mechanism (Older than steam!) and connect it to a little dynamo (If Faraday patented that, it's expired). It doesn't exist in the more general case because, outside of some highly specialised areas*, most 'inventions' can be easily re-implemented using alternative designs - and the only way to stop that happening is to allow patents so broad they don't cover technology, but concepts. Putting us back in troll-friendly territory where we are today.

    The problem isn't in the implimentation of patents. It's in the concept. It just doesn't work very well. A fundamentally flawed idea. Perhaps we need to get over this idea that the 'lone inventor' has a right to benefit from their work. It sounds great to our sense of fairness, but what it really comes down do is an exclusive right: There's a social cost to making patents half-way effective, and the innovation that results from giving inventors a financial incentive can be very easily outweighed by the innovation lost when small or medium entities are unable to enter the field at all because some sharp businessman realized he can file patents on things broad enough that they are impossible not to infringe** or trivial and numerous enough that they can be used to wage a financial war of attrition against any competitors***.

    *Where the implementation is the invention, such as in drugs... and even then, a rival could probably find a similar molecule that shares the same or close-enough functional area.

    **One of the ones in the h264 pool describes the concept of a program that accepts video input and outputs the video in encoded form. Not any internal implementation, or even clever maths. They patented the very idea of an encoder. It could probably be invalidated by prior art, but that's the point of a patent pool: There are so many, no-one could afford to fight them all.

    *** Rounded corners, swipe to unlock.

    It's far past when I should be sleeping on a normal night, and I was up until 5am last night playing Re-Volt with friends. I'm probably going to look over this rambling tomorrow and be unable to figure out what I was trying to say.

    • by louarnkoz (805588)
      He could not in fact patent something as broad as 'a mechanism for generating electrical energy from human input' because such mechanisms have been around for maybe 100 years. The old bicycles, for example, had a little dynamo that powered the head light and back light. It got its power from friction on the wheel, which was powered by the human cyclist...

      What this story really exposes is the hubris of the inventor. Say you work a couple of months on an invention, and file a patent. Do you really expect yea

  • I remember this guy. I'v seen him ~6 years ago on Discovery channel boasting how lovely and wonderful patents are. He was some kind of inventor mentor advising young aspiring makers on how to monetize. His first advice was to Patent the shit out of everything. When they asked about his successful inventions he showed a bunch of useless (but patented) garbage and the radio. He was already kind of a joke back then.

  • Should patent law protect stupid inventors from their own mistakes?

We will have solar energy as soon as the utility companies solve one technical problem -- how to run a sunbeam through a meter.

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