Next two weeks, we will answer some inquiries from readers to clear up the backlog, while we continue to write and complete the patent application of the automatic TWD prevention system.
This column receives anywhere between a few to several inquiries a week from readers mostly on their inventions. Receiving two inquiries per week would add up to 104 inquiries in a year with most of them requesting for answers. There is one big problem with these readers’ inquiries. I stress that any communication we receive from you might be openly discussed in this column for the benefit of our readers. My mission is to promulgate the concept of invention in general. However, here is one problem.
A typical question usually goes like this: “I have an idea for an invention, and I would like to patent it. But, I don’t know if it is worth trying to get a patent, and if I succeed in getting a patent, I don’t know just what to do to put it in use. Please advise.”
This standard inquiry stems from the disease called Paragrela. It is short for paranoid, greed and laziness. People who thought about an idea think this idea would have a huge profit potential. Therefore, the inventor doesn’t want to talk about the idea in detail from the fear of someone stealing the idea. Greed overwhelms the inventor, who then gets to be extremely secretive. Most inquiries tell us nothing about their idea and details. Therefore, we cannot possibly make any advice to lead the inventor into the right direction. If you tell us nothing, we cannot tell you anything useful.
We will carefully read and try to understand the described concept, which is often scantily expressed. However, we are NOT intellectual property lawyers. Although our column will maintain reasonable privacy on your inquiry, what you tell us is equivalent of public disclosure.
With that in mind, let’s pick one inquiry: An inventor Sherry St. Pierre from Greenland, NH asks the following:
“Hello Sam, I have been reading your columns on inventions and patents. I did purchase a patent book and have only skimmed through it. I can’t seem to find a chapter that applies to my situation. I have a recipe but I thought it would be easier to approach Betty Crocker with my idea instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, so to speak. I use one of their prepackaged cookie mixes and add my own ingredients. I have even come up with a package design, using their original package. My question is, can you patent an existing item with your own twist and how would I bring this idea to Betty Crocker and have it protected so they can’t take my idea and market it themselves? Any help would be appreciated.
There are two questions. Can the inventor try to apply and take a patent? The answer is yes. A ready-made cookie mix can be considered as an existing material, and the inventor is now adding some other material to change the final product. However, beyond that point I felt I knew so little about cooking, I decided to learn from our village post office. In the village I live, the post office doesn’t deliver door to door. Each resident is given a post box where mail is dropped around 10~11AM. Usually one could find a housewife or two chatting amicably after they pick their mail up. This is really my Google of a sort. I asked one of those ladies if the inventor’s idea made sense. Gee, she said, everyone I know tweaks “ready mix”. Two other ladies chimed in. Yes, I tweak too. Using sugar, butter, oil and other common ingredients, cookie mix is tweaked to deviate from the standard taste and texture for their liking. That’s what I found out.
So, there are two possibilities that this inventor is claiming. One is that she developed an entire different product out of using the ready mix and her own ingredient. It is no longer in the same category as the cookie mix was intended, and it was just used as one of the component of her invention. If that is the case, she could apply for a patent, although her invention would be 100% dependent on the cookie mix’s ingredient, and she better hope they would not change.
2nd case is that she simply thought of one way to tweak the mix to arrive at a unique or pleasant taste that she likes. This is not patentable as millions of housewives have been doing the same for longer than a century.
One another problem this inventor would face is how to deal with this gigantic corporation having annual revenue of $15 Billion, more than 3 times the fiscal budget of State of New Hampshire. Given the fact that everyone tweaks cookie mix to his/her liking, the marketing people of Betty Crocker must have an enormous knowledge and experience over this matter to the point nothing is new to them. My immediate conclusion is not to proceed with the idea. The inventor would save at least some $5,000 ~ $15,000 of her savings.
If the inventor wishes to further consult with my organization American Invention Institute, please contact 603-531-0004. A non-disclosure agreement (NDA) will be mailed to you before we proceed.
Next week, a software inventor’s inquiry.