Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How to Put a Patent on Your Inventiveness

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How to Put a Patent on Your Inventiveness

Article excerpt

While most people seek solutions, David Levy scans for problems.

"That's the key to inventing," says the winner of the $30,000 Lemelson-MIT student prize. "Wherever there is a problem, there exists a solution."

Among Mr. Levy's 12 creations are "Peelables" - layered labels for videocassettes and computer disks that peel off to uncover fresh ones - and the "world's smallest keyboard." It has 44 full-sized keys, is no bigger than a credit card, hosts an entire alphabet and numeric pad, and can be operated by a normal-sized finger.

"We need to spread the word that inventing is fun," says the mechanical-engineering student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass. "It's like exploration, going where nobody else has been before."

While it may be fun, it is also serious business. So, to protect their clever ideas, an increasing number of explorers from around the world are beating a path to patent offices with their discoveries, inventions, and useful improvements of existing gizmos.

Last year, some 220,000 Edison think-alikes applied for US patents, and nearly 114,000 were approved, a twofold increase over the last 15 years.

A patent is not permission to produce, but a license to forbid others from producing the patent holder's invention. Among the three types of patents - utility, design, and plant (bioengineering) - utility was by far the most popular. The hottest fields were computer software and biotechnology.

When you apply for a patent, there is a fee for everything: The basic filing fee is $750; request for oral hearing $250, non-English specification $130, copy of patent $3, and so on. More often than not, applications are returned for clarification. That means reapplying and more fees.

So to save time and money, the invention should be refined to its ultimate focus and tested as a prototype before an application is made, says Alexander Marinaccio, founder of the Atlanta-based Inventors Club of America and the Inventors Hall of Fame. …

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