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  #16   Spotlight this post!  
Unread 05-08-2007, 12:35 PM
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Re: Patents received by FIRST Teams

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Originally Posted by 4throck View Post
...It doesn't seem to me to be within the spirit of competition to patent these things. Teams shouldn't be in this to make a profit, nor should they be able to...I'm pretty sure our team could have gotten a patent or two in years past, but it isn't in the spirit of the game to be so secretive.
You might have the wrong idea of what a patent is and what it does. It certainly doesn't keep anything secret. Note that by applying for a patent, one makes the information public.

A patent merely gives its owner [temporary] ownership of a product or process. Nothing makes that owner prevent others from using it. All it does is forbid others from profiting from it without the owner's permission.
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Unread 05-08-2007, 12:39 PM
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Re: Patents received by FIRST Teams

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Originally Posted by Alan Anderson View Post
You might have the wrong idea of what a patent is and what it does. It certainly doesn't keep anything secret. Note that by applying for a patent, one makes the information public.

A patent merely gives its owner [temporary] ownership of a product or process. Nothing makes that owner prevent others from using it. All it does is forbid others from profiting from it without the owner's permission.
In fact for a patent to be valid you must provide enough information that some one "familiar with the art" would be capable of reproducing it. You are in essence giving the information for public use after a limited period of protection.
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Unread 05-08-2007, 01:04 PM
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Re: Patents received by FIRST Teams

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Originally Posted by Daniel_LaFleur View Post
One of the quickest, cheapest and easiest ways to protect your patentable ideas is whats called a 'poor mans' copywrite.

Take a copy of all of your documentation and put it into an envolope and then go to the post office and have them postmark across each seal of the envelope. As long as the seal remains intact, that envelope becomes a legal sealed and dated document that could be used to prove that you had the idea first.

Many people use this form of copywrite to protect themselves while going through the patent process.
That really is more of an urban legend than a practical idea. See http://www.snopes.com/legal/postmark.asp

What is done in industry is to keep a written notebook where each page is dated, signed by you and by a witness. The witness is important. This counts as a legal document as well.

Quote:
A patent merely gives its owner [temporary] ownership of a product or process. Nothing makes that owner prevent others from using it. All it does is forbid others from profiting from it without the owner's permission.
Technically, this isn't quite true. A patent gives you the right to prevent others from using whether or not they make a profit. Practically though, a company isn't going to sue you for infringement unless you are making a profit or have taken business away from them - why spend the money on litigation unless it saves the company money or allows them to sue for damages.

Last edited by Carol : 05-08-2007 at 01:10 PM.
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Unread 05-08-2007, 01:05 PM
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Re: Patents received by FIRST Teams

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Originally Posted by Peter Matteson View Post
In fact for a patent to be valid you must provide enough information that some one "familiar with the art" would be capable of reproducing it. You are in essence giving the information for public use after a limited period of protection.
Which is why my company is developing a "parallel path" for technology protection. Only ideas of commercial value are patented by the company. Those that have value to our customer ( the military ) are treated as a "trade secret". The process is very similar to our patent process, so everything is documented AND the inventor(s) get paid the same as if they filed the patent, but we don't have to tell the competition what we're up to.

Since the US is a "first to invent" country, we are also covered if somebody "invents" the idea later.

Time to go back to devloping trade secrets
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Unread 05-08-2007, 08:58 PM
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Re: Patents received by FIRST Teams

Quote:
Originally Posted by M. Krass View Post
Teams deserve the same protection of their investment as any other company or individual. I think it's a bit naive to expect that the developments made by some FIRST teams would only be useful to other FIRST teams, and so it seems prudent to take steps to protect our work from those who may be less scrupulous than many of the people involved with FIRST.
I disagree, but that is another argument for another time. What I've seen has mostly dispelled my fears, and I retract my earlier comment.

And to Alan, I completely understand what a patent is. What I was worried about was the slide of FIRST into a culture of teams being more interested in protecting their own ideas than learning from others, or even allowing others to do what they have done without permission. To go any further into this would get into a debate about the merits of intellectual property itself, an argument that this forum is not exactly conducive to.

Last edited by 4throck : 05-08-2007 at 09:04 PM.
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Unread 05-08-2007, 09:19 PM
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Re: Patents received by FIRST Teams

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Originally Posted by 4throck View Post
What I was worried about was the slide of FIRST into a culture of teams being more interested in protecting their own ideas than learning from others, or even allowing others to do what they have done without permission.
Within the FIRST community, there has been much sharing of ideas and learning from others. Often, individuals and teams have allowed and even encouraged others to use ideas and designs without permission. Still, some ideas are novel and need to be patented. This does not cease the sharing and learning.

FIRST is changing the culture by encouraging the sharing of technical ideas. Teams are vying for awards and submitting entries into books that will be viewed by all of FIRST. There's no need to worry that a slide in the opposite direction is taking place.

Oh... and to answer John's question and get this thread back on topic: check team 357. They have two patent applications taking place right now, Students and mentors on that team are involved. One is for a battery mount apparatus and the other is for a bearing made for t-slot extrusion.

Andy B.

Last edited by Andy Baker : 05-08-2007 at 09:21 PM.
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Unread 05-09-2007, 07:19 AM
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Re: Patents received by FIRST Teams

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Originally Posted by ChrisH View Post
Since the US is a "first to invent" country, we are also covered if somebody "invents" the idea later.

Be aware that there is a bill in Congress right now that will change the US to a "first to file" system, as the US is the only major country left in the world that is "first to invent". This has been tried several times in the past and never has passed, but I think it is inevitable someday. It will certainly simplify the patent process a lot and eliminate a lot of time and money spent on interferences.

http://www.patentlyo.com/patent/2007...eform_a_1.html
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Unread 05-09-2007, 07:45 AM
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Re: Patents received by FIRST Teams

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Originally Posted by 4throck View Post
To go any further into this would get into a debate about the merits of intellectual property itself, an argument that this forum is not exactly conducive to.
On the contrary, that is exactly what this thread is concerned with.

The patent system was created order to promote the creation and sharing of inventions rather than keeping them secret. It provides a period of exclusivity to the inventor as a reward for making the invention public. Without that reward, we'd likely have a lot more "magic formula" inventions that would never become available for use by society at large. If every expression of an idea were considered to be in the public domain, ideas would be a lot less valuable. There'd be little economic incentive to come up with them in the first place, and basically no incentive to share them.

One of the cultural concepts that has emerged from the teams participating in FIRST is that ideas are worth sharing. The urge to compete tends to drive teams to hold the ideas close during the competition season, but the urge to contribute means they get publicized afterwards. Team 45 was a major player in getting this started, making available complete drawings of robot subassemblies. You can find the current fruit of this in the recently published book FIRST Robotics: Behind the Design.
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Unread 05-09-2007, 10:14 AM
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Re: Patents received by FIRST Teams

As a practicing patent attorney/team mentor, I think Alan has captured the essence of the patent system with his post:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Alan Anderson View Post
On the contrary, that is exactly what this thread is concerned with.

The patent system was created order to promote the creation and sharing of inventions rather than keeping them secret. It provides a period of exclusivity to the inventor as a reward for making the invention public. Without that reward, we'd likely have a lot more "magic formula" inventions that would never become available for use by society at large. If every expression of an idea were considered to be in the public domain, ideas would be a lot less valuable. There'd be little economic incentive to come up with them in the first place, and basically no incentive to share them.
FIRST Robotics: Behind the Design.
In the 18th century, most of the "useful arts" were performed by individual tradesmen. The duration of a patent (the time the inventor can exclude others from practicing the invention) was calculated to give them the same benefit as if they kept the secret to themselves (it is now 20 years). However, instead of keeping the idea a secret, the inventor publishes it and it belongs to the public when the patent expires.

If a FIRST team came up with a patentable (new, non-obvious, useful) idea and wanted to license it for revenue, a patent is the best mechanism available for doing this. They could offer other FIRST teams a royalty-free license, while still charging commercial interests a market-driven royalty.

None of the other ideas discussed would achieve this combination of sharing the idea and commercializing it. A trade secret has to be kept secret and can only be commercialized through a confidential license. It can also be circumvented by reverse engineering, which is not a defense to patent infringement.

The urban legend about a poor man's copyright has hurt a lot of inventors who thought that they were being protected. If you invent something and disclose it or try to commercialize it, you must apply for a patent within one year of that first use to file a patent application. If you wait any longer, you forfeit the right to patent it.

The witnessed written description of an idea, which is the heart of an inventor's notebook, is important for any new idea. It serves two purposes - supports the date of invention if you file for a patent, and can help defend against someone else's patent if it show that you invented the idea first.

Copyright only protects the expression of the idea, not the idea itself. For example, if you publish your drawings of a transmission and register the copyright, you can only stop someone else from copying your drawings. A copyright does not prevent them from building the transmission.

If anyone has questions about IP issues, they can feel free to email me directly for help.

Jim Lester - Team 1533
jlester@alum.mit.edu
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