A wacky idea about patents

2 April 2013

I'm not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV.

Weejay, one of the companies I work with, received a letter from a law firm in KC a few weeks ago. The letter basically claimed that their client had a patent pending on what they described as something along the lines of an "audio visual entertainment system." I'm not sure if thats the exact wording, but its about the same amount of vagueness. The letter didn't reference the patent or even who their client was. Pretty much a scare tactic. I guess they figured we'd roll over and play dead.

It got me thinking about patents though and it occurred to me that the system we have now seems to be exactly backwards of what it should be.

It seems to me that the ownness to make sure no patents are being violated shouldn't be on the entrepreneur or inventor. It should be on the patent holder.

Typically, the patent holder has the deep pockets and resources, not the entrepreneur or inventor.

So what am I proposing? I'm not exactly sure, but my current thinking is a sort of "invention clearing house" where an entrepreneur or an inventor can fill out some online forms about what they are planning on building or have already built, how it will work, etc. This would be basically a database that these patent holders need to monitor to see if anyone is going to build something that violates their patent. There needs to be a barrier to entry, but I think having a Federal Employee Id number is probably good enough for most cases. The patent holders can then notify an inventor that they hold the patent and possibly come to a deal on licensing.

The invention posting would only stay live in the clearing house for a set number of days. Off the top of my head, I'd probably go with 90. And the patent holders only get a certain number of false notifications before they have to put up money and forfeit it for every false notification afterwords. Hell, maybe we can help reduce the deficit too.

If no one brings a valid violation to light in those 90 days, the organization has the right to build that invention forever, but the patent holders can still stop others from using their IP provided they notify them inside of their 90 day window. There probably needs to be some protection for build a blatant copy of a product, but then again, how often are copy cats successful in this day and age?

Of course, the first thing everyone is going to point out is, "what if someone steals my idea?"

I don't think idea stealing is as rampant as the media makes it out to be. I'm going to take a line out of Eric Reis' book, 'The Lean Startup' and tell you if you really think that your idea is at risk of getting stolen, take that idea, or maybe a less 'valuable' idea and figure out some company that could benefit from it, or some person who might want to build it, call them up and tell them your idea. I'd be willing to the bet that nothing happens and they will probably be a little annoyed you wasted their time. Chances are they have already thought about it and tried it or its just not a priority for them, if its even that great of an idea. Just like building eBay wasn't a priority from everyone who claims they invented eBay. If you would have invented eBay, you would have invented eBay.

So, am I crazy or what?

PS, I'm thinking about adding comments here, if you would actually use them, please hit me on twitter - @edorsey