What do you get when you put a lawyer, a plumber, and an accountant together with a group of entrepreneurs and inventors?

You get a lively discussion about Intellectual Property! 

At the October 8th Imagination Network monthly meeting, Nick Brannen (attorney), Greg Mies (master plumber and inventor), and Ken Manninen (accountant, manufacturing VP and inventor) shared their expertise and experience about  intellectual property in a casual, Q&A format.   Intellectual Property (IP) is not just for inventors. IP covers many creations of the mind or intellect including inventions but also literary and artistic works, symbols, names, images, and designs used in commerce. 

Meeting attendees asked questions about:  the differences between patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets; patent specifics such as timing, costs, and types; licensing agreements;  and  non-disclosure agreements. Some discussion highlights include:

  • Copyrights protect artistic expressions and not functional elements. Protectable artistic “works” include songs, pictures, designs, etc.
  • Trademarks protect brand names/logos, corporate colors, symbols, etc. such as the Golden Arches of McDonalds.
  • Trade secrets protect a process, practice, or formula such as the Coca-Cola formula that derive value from being secret.
  • One way to think about a patent is that it can provide protection for future revenue streams for an invention. Utility patents protect the structure/operation of an invention whereas a design patent protects the ornamental design of an invention.
  • A provisional patent application remains pending for only one year.  During that short timeframe, an inventor needs to do market tests/research and make adjustments accordingly. A utility patent application needs to be filed within one year of the provisional application and provides protection for 20 years from the earliest non-provisional application filing date.
  • Typical application fees for a patent costs roughly $10-$12,000 but can vary depending on the complexity and difficulties associated with the application.
  • A license agreement is like a lease.  You retain ownership of the invention but give up some potential return to reduce your risk (time and money invested).
  • Non-disclosure agreements are used between at least two parties outlining terms of sharing confidential information and knowledge.  The parties agree not to disclose information covered in the agreement to third parties.  Knowing when to use one is sometimes tricky. As with all agreements, the terms are spelled out in the text.

Words of wisdom from the panelists:

Nick:  Inventors should understand what rights are available, when one should seek protection and consider how the protection fits with what goals they are trying to accomplish. What’s your end result?

Ken:  Strongly consider what you are trying to protect.  In the end, the goal is to get a reasonable return on your investment.  Know your costs and potential selling price point for your product.  Remember, many products get patented, but never get to market.  Can it be economically produced at a price point the market would accept? Also, know the timeline and your deadlines, so you don’t lose out on an opportunity.

Greg: There are so many decisions you have to make in the invention process if you choose to have something patented. Once you start the patent process and the clock starts ticking, the time frame is short so make sure you try to think of everything. It can be a long process but it also can be a rewarding one. Keep your expectations realistic.

Imagination Network is an Inventors and Entrepreneurs Club that is open to all and meets every second Tuesday of the month at the Elks Lodge, 33 Sheboygan Street, Fond du Lac, WI.  It’s a great way to connect with and learn from peers and other resources in a fun, supportive environment. Relaxed mingling begins at 5pm along with dinner and drinks available for order.  The meeting starts at 6pm and usually lasts around 1.5 to 2 hours.