Patent Pitfalls

You fall into the pit of poverty if you fail to apply for a patent on your invention. 

 If You Ignore Patents, You Remain Poor

 There once was a flyer named Steve,

Who had an invention one eve.

But he made a big slip,

Failed to patent his ship,

His heirs without money now grieve.


You also fall into the pit of anonymity if you don’t apply for a patent.

 There once was a whiz kid named Steve,

Who had an invention one eve.

But he made a big goof,

Failed to patent his spoof,

His ownership none will concede.


Many people have told me that they had an idea, or that they invented something, did nothing about it, did not patent it, and discovered years later that someone else patented the invention and became wealthy.  Who are all those people?  I don’t know — they have faded into the background of anonymity.  Contrast Steve with Texas Instruments.  For several years, TI earned more money from patent royalties, over $200 million a year, than from manufacturing. 

 You fall into the pit of poverty if you concentrate on your offense, and forget your defense.  Let’s suppose that you come up with a great idea, and build a working model of it.  This is a special feature of an airfoil (“lifter”) that increases the lift-to-drag ratio by 50%.  Your lifter works so well, that you immediately begin making it in your machine shop, and selling it.  You then hire a patent attorney (good move), and eventually the government gives you a patent on your invention.  Shortly after your patent issues, a major aircraft manufacturer sues you for patent infringement.  You say, “I’m not infringing, I have a patent!”  Unfortunately, you lose.  Why?  Because,

 Your Patent Is Not A License To Copy Other Ideas

 A patent gives to one the right

To stop the copiers with law.

It does not give to one the right

To copy someone else’s saw.


Before you build your next great saw,

And plan to make a lot of cash,

Check out the patents on a saw,

And thus avoid the law’s hard lash.


So, how can you make any money if you can’t build and sell your invention?  Remember TI?  You can sell licenses to aircraft manufacturers, and become wealthy without ever building anything.  On the other hand, if you want to build your “lifter”, you can offer to license the aircraft manufacturer to build single engine planes with the lifter, in return for a license under its patents, so that you can build gliders.

 Procrastination Prevents Patents

 Now when you first attempt to sell

Your new inventive wishing well,

Get your attorney in high gear,

Because you only have one year.


You only have a year to send

Your application in the mail.

And if this rule you try to bend,

Your new invention’s doomed to fail.


Is Your New Idea “Obvious”?

 Not every new idea so bright

Will qualify for patent right.

It can’t be obvious to one

Of ordinary skill, my son.


A man of ordinary skill

Does not invent, and never will.

Test for “obvious” we can’t find,

Viewing the inventor’s mind.


It’s not an obvious design

If it has never come to mind,

To those who work hard every day

To do their job a better way.


Anything that you invent,

Just combines what’s done before.

Not a waste of time you’ve spent;

Combo’s not in any lore.



About timheadley

For almost 30 years, as a lawyer, Tim Headley has been helping clients protect their intellectual property, according to the laws of patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets, not only in the United States, but in various countries around the world. Before that, he worked as an electrical engineer. Before that, he taught theology, in Spanish, to adult students, in the evenings, in a school in La Paz, Bolivia. You can contact him at, or his office phone, 713-467-8500, or his cell phone, 713-398-1045. His website is
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