Good news, bad news

The latest on my vanity patent:

After much back and forth-ing with the examiner and his supervisor it seems my claims are being approved. That’s the good news. That’s it. The rest is bad news…

The bad news is the examiner has made this moronic insistence that I include a specific detection method in the claims which naturally means that if anyone were to produce the exact same product, but using a different detection method, they wouldn’t be infringing. The particular detection method is only meant to be used at the largest commercial scale (250K+ parallel sequencers) and there is plenty of money to be made at a much smaller scale (I already have a design with 40K parallel sequencers that would work just peachy, except uses a different detection method). Basically the patent is useless for any sort of intellectual property protection. Of course, if I had more money I could get around this nonsense, but the lawyer charges $675/hr and even though he has been generous in his accounting, I and my small investor just can’t afford to put in more money.

The worst thing, as if this weren’t bad enough, is the deadline to file for world-wide rights is Sept 15 and the lawyer needs at least 2 weeks to get the applications ready. Oh, the cost estimate for this process is $90-120K, more than the cost to validate the design. Thus, my uselessly narrowed patent will only be applicable in the US, probably no more than 20% of the market. My small investor took a tiny (yet still $1,000) ad out in the Wall Street Journal and to my mild surprise I got three inquiries. None amounted to anything; only one actually said no, the other two never got back to me despite my gentle nagging.

This whole process has really soured me on the idea of getting a patent. I’m quite certain that if we had a competent examiner that actually spoke comprehensible English we could have agreed on a set of claims that would have been commercially useful long ago and without getting the supervisor involved. A crap shoot on which examiner I get, though they all have specializations, so not totally random. Sort of like judges for trial, wind up with the hanging judge and spend the rest of your life in jail for a minor offense, get the bleeding heart judge and get probation for murder. Oh, examiners are basically paid piece work, so he has been reluctant to spend more time on my application since he has been working for ‘free’. I understand the government’s incentive to try and motivate the examiners with this approach, but now I’m being punished because of his incompetent insistence on wasting his time on irrelevancies.

So for any of you following this saga with any thought of getting a patent of your own, here are some bullet points for you based on my experience:

  • Never, ever, do this yourself. Your claims are everything. If you fuck up your claims before the examiner gets his (or her) mitts on them there is no recovery. Claims are legal statements, think about how easily Congress screws things up all the time. Don’t write your own claims unless you want to spend all your time and money on nothing.
  • Have deep pockets! I haven’t done a final accounting yet, but I am pretty sure I will have spent more than $20K for my useless patent. While it’s feasible to find a lawyer that charges a lot less than $675/hr (it isn’t like my lawyer gets all that, his firm has to pay for a nice building in the middle of DC, not to mention all the support staff) you have to be absolutely sure you have the right guy as this is an area where there are so many subspecialties it’s ridiculous. A portion of my patent mentioned LEDs and my lawyer worked with a specialist in LEDs to make sure all the right verbiage was included in my application.
  • Either plan to cover the global patents up-front or decide they aren’t necessary, this process is so long and drawn out that its just not practical to think you can get the US patent finalized before you go for the rest of the world. Though I never got to the point of doing the global applications (you apply for each country individually, in that country’s official language; let that sink in for a while) I have had a number of estimates in the same range. Thus, expect to have a working budget of at least $150K to get global coverage
  • Don’t bother. That is my take-away message from this debacle. All a patent grants you is the right to sue someone for infringement. If your idea is worthless to begin with, you won’t have any problems with infringers because you already wasted your time and money. If your idea is worth a mint (as I remain convinced mine _was_; now it is basically free to anyone, thus worthless to me) then you need to prepare every step of the way for prosecuting infringers AND have deep enough pockets to take them on. The US system is carefully crafted to basically make the odds of success for the individual on par with the lottery. I’m quite sure if I had ‘invested’ that $20K in lotto tickets I would have more to show for my efforts than I will ever get out of this patent.

Here is a partial list of other billion-dollar ideas I won’t be pursuing:

  • Long-term (million-year) archival storage with read speeds as fast as today’s fastest drives.
  • Table-top fusion. Actually, if this works it’s a trillion dollar idea.
  • Molecular memory that’s as fast as RAM, retains information without power and is infinitely re-writable.
  • This is probably only a $100 million idea: synthetic anti-freeze protein for tissue and organ preservation.

Aquaponics is probably my last attempt at elevating myself out of (upper) middle class. If I can get reality to match my pretty spreadsheet I can leverage our current resources into a nation-wide network that has billion-dollar potential. On days like today, though, it’s hard to get enthusiastic about the potential…

Author: Tfoui

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