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by Dr. Vernon Brabham

The patent system, as it applies to individuals, has gotten completely out of hand. Most product creators tend to put a false importance and status to the power of the 'almighty patent'. Due to this myopic perception people are wasting money at the rate of well over $100 million a year.

Patents are overvalued in our minds because we have been brought up to feel that a patent gives a special prestige, an Edison-like aura.

In the U.S. there are 3067 patent agents and 13,991 patent attorneys. Patent attorneys were expected in 1994 to make at least $1.8 billion in fees. This makes them among the highest paid attorneys.

In 1993 the Patent & Trade Office had 5,119 full-time employees. The 1994 budget for this office was 485.4 million dollars. They also handle trademarks but it can be safely assumed that most of the budget was directed to patents.

The PO reveals that they issued 88,793 patents in 1987 but only 8% would ever go into production commercially and only 5% would ever earn money for the inventor. Although these figures were from a decade ago these percentages would hold true for most any year.

It certainly seems obvious who makes money from patents. Those who are unquestionably making money on the patenting process, without risk, are the patent attorneys, patent agents, the employees of the PO and related people such as patent searchers, etc. It is therefore in these peoples' interest to perpetuate the myths so long connected with patents.

Myth 1: Getting a patent means that the inventor is going to make money. Nothing could be further from the truth! You can get a U.S. patent even if your invention is short on technical merit, compared to prior art, and more expensive to manufacture than prior art. This means that getting a patent is not proof that your idea has commercial value. In short, the PO just doesn't care and, in most cases, your attorney doesn't either; after all, his primary function is to get you a patent, not to give you business advice.

WHY THEN do so many people apply for a patent?

It is because they have been uninformed as to the value of having a patent. They will spend between $9,000 and $15,000 and a minimum of two years to get that piece of paper. It might give a degree of status to say, "I have a patent" but is it worth that much time and money for something to frame and hang on the wall? I don't think so.

Myth 2: A patent gives you protection. This is simply not so.

The PO does not stop someone from infringing on your idea. is up to you to stop the infringer and you do this by taking him to court if, after you warn him, he persists in infringing. This will probably cost you $50,000 and may take years. Meanwhile he is still infringing and is still in business making and selling copies of your product. So if you do not have the business acumen and a hefty chunk of money to sue someone why get a patent at all?

Myth 3: The Patent Office guarantees the validity of a patent. Again not so. The patent you get may not stand up in court for a variety of reasons. Of all the patent claims brought before the court 80% are overturned or held invalid!

You want an example of what can happen? Here it is!

Robert W. Kearns, the man who invented the intermittent windshield wiper, claimed that automakers stole his patent and made hundreds of millions of dollars. He had been in the courts for twenty years and was finally awarded $21 million from Chrysler. Sounds great, huh? Just listen. Legal fees got most of it and Kearns says he's still broke and the lawsuits have consumed him. His wife left him and he was once committed to a psychiatric hospital. So much for the protection of a patent!

This report is not to condemn all patents. Some ideas should be patented but you, with your money on the line, have to decide what is best for your new product idea. Would a patent add value to your idea? If it would not then your time and money should be spent determining how to make it, what it would cost to make it, how to package it and how to market it.

Get your product to market fast!!

Experts say that only 1% of the products on the market today are patented so there are a lot of people who don't think a patent is that important. These experts usually agree that being first on the market brings considerable advantages.

If your product sells, you still have a year to apply for a patent. If it doesn't sell, think of the money you saved! The ultimate goal of having an idea for a new product is to make money and if getting a patent is the proper tool to achieve that goal then go for it but don't do it just because someone says you should. If getting a patent is not the proper tool then spend that money and time getting your product out there fast, first and profitably!


Vernon Brabham is a self-made entrepreneur who has taken 10 new products to market. He writes articles for INVENTORS' DIGEST and is the author of the audio tape, "How To Turn Your New Product Ideas Into Cash!". For FREE information on the tape email him at or visit his website at:

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