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What entity are you?

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I’m not an expert. I’m just a guy who likes to think about stuff.

For those of you who are interested in filing a patent application, be mindful of your filing status. There are three filing statuses to choose from: large entity, small entity, and microentity. Which entity are you? It depends.

Up until the passage of the America Invents Act (AIA), there were only two filing statuses: large entity and small entity. If you’re filing a patent application on behalf of a business that has over 500 employees, you’d file under large entity status. To be considered a small entity, you’d have to be one of the following:

  • Independent inventors
  • A small business of at most 500 employees
  • A non-profit organization

Independent inventors who have not assigned their invention to a large entity qualify for small entity status. Universities and 501(c) organizations qualify as non-profit organizations. If a non-profit organization has not assigned its invention to a large entity, it can file as a small entity.

The AIA introduced a third filing status: the microentity. To file as a microentity, you either qualify based on experience and income or institute of higher learning. To qualify based on experience and income, you must meet the following criteria:

  • The inventors must qualify as a small entity
  • None of inventors can be a named inventor on more than four applications
  • None of the inventors’ gross income from the year preceding the filing can exceed three times the median US income (currently $160,971)
  • None of the inventors must be obligated to assign the invention to those with a higher gross income than three times the median US income

To qualify based on institute of higher learning, you must meet either of these criteria:

  • The inventors’ employer is an institute of higher learning
  • The inventors are obliged to assign their invention to an institute of higher learning

What’s the big deal with entity status? Money. Microentities pay half the patent office fees that small entities pay. Small entities pay half the patent office fees that large entities pay. If your entity status changes during the application process, you can file a change request asking for the new filing status.

Bottom line: File using the correct entity status. It pays to do so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Start with prior art!

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I’m not an expert. I’m just a guy who likes to think about stuff.

You have an invention idea and you apply for a patent application. But what if someone has already patented that idea? All your hard work has been in vain. You wouldn’t have had this problem if you had done a prior art search before filing the application, though.

A prior art search is a search for all patent applications and patents that are related to your invention idea. There are companies whose sole job is to do prior art searches. They have access to databases from around the world and can provide you with a list of patent applications and patents related to your invention. A patent practitioner can take that list and look through all the applications and patents and see what they claim.  If he thinks that your invention can claim something that’s different from what’s claimed in the list, then your invention may be patentable.

There are some patent practitioners who do their own prior art searches. They most likely don’t have access to all the databases and tools prior art search companies have access to, though. Going through a company that routinely does prior art searches will likely give you a more comprehensive list.  The bigger the list is, the less surprised you’ll be by the patent examiner looking over your application. The examiner will do his own prior art search and come up with his own list. You want your list to match his list as much as possible. By having access to more databases than a patent practitioner, a prior art search company is your best bet of your list matching up with the examiner’s list. You’ll be more prepared if the examiner issues a rejection of your application based on a document on his list.

If your application is likely to face rejection, wouldn’t you like to know that beforehand? Doing a prior art search before filing an application can save you a lot of money in patent practitioner fees, filing fees, and other fees. A typical prior art search can cost around $500, but don’t skimp on this step. $500 early on trumps thousands of dollars of fees later on.

 

 

Startup tips

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I’m not an expert. I’m just a guy who likes to think about stuff.

I have worked for a couple different startup companies. Having gone through that experience, I have some ideas on what they should focus on. If you’re thinking of forming a new business, here are some tips.

  1. Get your IP squared away. File provisional patent applications and keep track of when a year has passed. You have 1 year after filing a provisional application to file the utility application that will be examined by the patent office. You’re more attractive to investors when you have IP.
  2. Join associations related to your field. Investors tend to be members of these groups, too. For instance, I’m a member of the San Diego Entrepreneurs Exchange (SDEE). SDEE offers pitch workshops, IP seminars, and monthly happy hours, all meant to help its members learn and connect.
  3. Don’t spend money when you don’t have to. I once worked at a small company who spent money on outfitting the building with TV monitors. The monitors were never used. Not once! I’m not sure what was supposed to be shown on them anyway.
  4. Keep in touch with associates from previous jobs. They may be your first customers. They at least can point you in the direction of potential customers. In other words, try not to burn any bridges. Another thing: don’t just contact former coworkers when you want something from them. Shoot them an email every now and then to say hello, so when it’s time to ask for something, they don’t think that you’re using them.
  5. When hiring, bring on people who are as passionate about your company as you are. If you can sell employees on the company, chances are you can sell investors on it, too.
  6. Be willing to give. Oftentimes, we get caught up in what we want. But we must be willing to give. I offer a monthly newsletter with information for people interested in patents and writing, since I’m interested in patents and writing. The newsletter is to show people I know what I’m talking about, to provide useful information to them, and to keep my name in their heads. You reap what you sow.

Tips to pitch

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I’m not an expert. I’m just a guy who likes to think about stuff.

You filed a provisional application. The clock has officially started. You now have 1 year to file a utility application. You want to continue with the patent process, but the costs to proceed are staggering. What do you do? Get investors! Angel investors are typically those that fund early stage ventures. A great way to find them is to talk to others who have had angel investors. Joining trade organizations related to your invention is another way. If you eventually get a meeting with prospective angel investors, here are some tips on how to pitch your invention idea to them:

  1. Get the audience’s attention within the first minute. You typically have one minute to grab investors’ attention before they tune out. If you have an hour for the pitch, do it in 20 minutes, leaving the rest of the time for Q&A.
  2. Tell the audience a story. While investors need data to make an informed decision about your invention, couch that data in stories. Kids like stories. Adults do, too.
  3. Know your audience. The story that your audience wants to hear will vary. The technology-minded will want to hear a technology story. The business-minded? A business story. Find out beforehand who will be in the audience to tailor the story to the audience.
  4. Be honest about challenges. Don’t say that you don’t have any. There are always issues to overcome. Tell the investors what those issues are. The investors, if they choose to take you on, may be able to help.
  5. Focus on your strengths, not your competitors’ weaknesses. Don’t disparage your competition. Chances are that your audience knows your competitors and all their warts. Focus on the benefits of your invention and how it addresses the problem you’re solving.
  6. Don’t claim that you have no competitors. The audience will think either that you didn’t do your homework or you’re lying to make your invention seem more novel. Acknowledge the competition. Doing so makes you seem more knowledgeable of the market.
  7. Don’t oversell how successful the invention will be. Investors want you to tell them what their return on investment will be. 2-3 year financial projections are typically the best you can reasonably estimate. 10 years? 15 years? Not a chance.
  8. Be confident, not arrogant. There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance. The line consists of listening. Confidence is quiet. Arrogance is loud. Listen to learn the audience’s needs. Accept feedback.
  9. Don’t try to get married on the first date! The purpose of an initial meeting with angel investors is to start a conversation, not end it. Investors don’t typically write a check at the end of a pitch. The pitch is to get you to the next phase of the investors’ selection process. Hopefully, closing the deal will come soon enough!

 

 

Beware of public disclosure

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I’m not an expert. I’m just a guy who likes to think about stuff.

You have an invention idea and you want to patent it. Trouble is you don’t have a lot of money. You think that if you present your idea to people willing to fund it, like angel investors, they’ll pay for the patent application. Sounds like a plan, right? Perhaps.

Oftentimes, inventors will pitch their invention idea to angel investors (or others with deep pockets) to fund their invention idea. Some of the money the inventors receive can be used to fund a patent application. A potential problem arises if the pitch to the investors is deemed a public disclosure. Essentially, if the inventors tell the investors what their invention is and how to make and use it, this information can be used by others to invalidate the patent.

After telling the investors about the invention, the inventors have a year to file for a patent application. If the inventors fail to file an application within that year, the meeting with the investors can be deemed a public disclosure. Here is an example to explain this concept.

You have an invention idea and have scheduled a pitch meeting with potential investors on August 1, 2016. The investors take many pitch meetings and never sign non-disclosure agreements, meaning that anything you tell the investors can be deemed a public disclosure. At the pitch meeting, you tell the investors what your invention is and how to make and use it. According to US Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) patent office rules, you have until August 1, 2017 (i.e. 1 year from the pitch meeting) to file a patent application. If you file a patent application after August 1, 2017, you’ve obviously taken more than 1 year to file the application. You submit the patent application on September 1, 2017 (more than a year after the pitch meeting) and eventually receive a patent for your application. If someone can prove that you made the public disclosure at the investors meeting on August 1, 2016, that person can invalidate your patent. You didn’t follow the rules! You took more than a year after the pitch meeting to file the patent application. You lose.

The investors in this hypothetical are typical. Most investors receive so many pitches, they refuse to sign non-disclosure agreements. To avoid having your patent invalidated, file a provisional patent application before meeting with investors. In the provisional application, explain what the invention is and how to make and use it in as much detail as possible. Once you file the provisional application, you can talk to potential investors about anything that is in the provisional application. If the investors decide to invest in your invention, you can use some of that money to continue the patent process (i.e. filing a utility application and paying the associated fees). Keep in mind that a provisional application expires a year after filing. To give yourself the best shot possible at securing investor funding before the year is up, my next post will focus on effective pitching techniques.

 

One visit. That’s it!

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I’m not an expert. I’m just a guy who likes to think about stuff.

I often read job search articles online. Not because I’m looking for a job, but because I’m fascinated with what people are willing to put up with during a job search. I’ve read about people returning to companies for third, fourth, even fifth round interviews. Why?

Interviewers typically want to meet during regular business hours.  For people who have jobs, it is difficult to get out of work to go interview. How are you supposed to explain to your boss that you need to leave work at 2 pm? If you need to go to multiple interviews, you have to come up with different excuses. Or just call in sick or go home sick multiple times. How sick can one person be? Plus, when you call in sick, you won’t get that sick day pay when you eventually quit.

When I was looking for a job while employed, I’d insist on meeting all the pertinent interviewers in one visit. I’d rather take one day off than call in sick or make excuses to leave work multiple times. I’d always schedule interviews for either Monday or Friday, so that my current employer would simply think that I wanted a long weekend. A company should be able to get a feel for your candidacy for a position in one visit. If it can’t, it may want to review its interviewing process!

Another thing – make sure to get an itinerary beforehand of the people who’ll interview you. Read their LinkedIn profiles. Learn something about them. People like to talk about themselves.

For those of you who are job searching, follow my example. It’ll save you time and headaches. If the interviewing company will not accommodate you, don’t interview there. That company obviously does not care about its employees (or prospective employees).

 

 

A sales job done poorly

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I’m not an expert. I’m just a guy who likes to think about stuff.

Since I started working for myself, I’ve attended seminars and workshops on…just about everything! Email marketing, cold calling, negotiation – you name it. One of the most impactful seminars I attended was one on sales. Sales is truly a science, and I saw the science in action a few weeks ago.

I attended a workshop on building a six figure professional speaking business. The presenter was a guy who came recommended by a member of my professional speaking group. The presentation started off with a video of testimonials about the presenter. My spidey sense kicked in immediately. Why was this guy trying to sell me already? I didn’t know these people on the screen. I’ve never spoken to them. Why should I believe them? Throughout the workshop, the presenter kept telling us attendees how others commented on how authentic he was. Why couldn’t he just let his authenticity shine through?

One of our biggest motivators to buy is fear of missing out. How can a seller ramp this fear up? By placing a time limit on an offer and highlighting the scarcity of the product or service. “I only have 10 seats available.” “This seminar will surely sell out.” I never really thought about this selling tactic until the end of the professional speaking business workshop.

Almost on cue, after speaking for a couple of hours, the presenter offered the audience a “deal.” A 2-day intensive workshop guaranteeing us a six million dollar professional speaking business for the low price of $10,000. After announcing the price, the speaker asked the audience who’d be interested in attending the 2-day workshop. Crickets. Maybe a handful of people put their hand up. I guess when he saw that most of us weren’t biting, he offered us “sponsorships.” He’d cut the price in half to $5000, but only for six people. He had registration forms ready for the six people. Seven people raised their hand. What about the people who were willing to pay $10,000? Did they feel deceived? The presenter handed registration forms to six of the seven people who raised their hand. One of these people wanted more time to think about registering. The presenter said that there was no time, since there was someone who raised her hand and didn’t get a form. The hard sell in action!

I saw selling at work – and I didn’t like it. Not the way the presenter did it, anyway. I suspect that he always wanted $5000 for the 2 day course, but he wanted to see if people were willing to pay double. Surely there must be a better way to sell to people.

Why not try honesty? Don’t promise that your 2 day seminar will give someone a million dollar business. You can’t possibly know that. And don’t put fake time limits on offers. It’s disingenuous. I buy when I trust the seller. I didn’t trust this presenter one bit.

As a seller, it’s important to build trust with buyers. It may take weeks. It may take months. But isn’t that a better sale? Buyers won’t feel like they’re just getting used for their money; they’ll feel your authenticity. They’re more likely to refer you to others, since they feel like you care about their success. The presenter didn’t know me long enough to possibly care about my success.

It was a pure sales job – one I saw coming a mile away.

Are quarterly emails for you?

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I’m not an expert. I’m just a guy who likes to think about stuff.

I recently had consultant Amy Rasdal of Rasdal Associates and Billable at the Beach on my podcast, Neil Thompson Speaks! A big issue for entrepreneurs is generating business. During the podcast, Amy shared a tip that works for her.

Once a quarter, she sends a mass email to her list to remind the list recipients of her services. I recently received her quarterly email. In the email, she lists out the services she provides and examples of how her services have saved companies time and/or money. She sent the email using Constant Contact (www.constantcontact.com), but there are many similar email marketing products out there (MailChimp, Vertical Response, GetResponse, etc.). Amy says that she always gets a few job offers from these emails.

Setting up a list in an email marketing software product is quite easy. In MailChimp, it’s especially straightforward. I have an email list in MailChimp and I’m not computer savvy in the least! If I can do it, anyone can. Once you have the list, you can customize your email to give it a certain look. You can unsubscribe from these emails at any time. There’s really no risk.

Amy swears by her quarterly emails. Using email marketing software, she can reach out to more people in less time than if she emailed individually. Since the people on her list know her already, they’re less likely to view the email as spam, too. Seems like a win-win to me.

Have I convinced you to give quarterly emails a shot? Perhaps if you listen to the podcast with Amy, the success she’s had with them will do so. Listen in at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/neilthompsonspeaks/2016/11/14/neil-thompson-speaks–amy-rasdal.

 

Want to be an entrepreneur? Ask these 3 questions

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I’m not an expert. I’m just a guy who likes to think about stuff.

I recently had Gregg Ward of the Gregg Ward Group on my podcast. I asked him about his motivation to become self-employed after years or corporate life. He then revealed to me three questions reluctant entrepreneurs should ask themselves before jumping into entrepreneurship. These questions helped him make his decision to start his business.

  1. Can you do anything else besides entrepreneurship to be happy?

If you’re disgruntled at your job and don’t want to interview anywhere, perhaps entrepreneurship isn’t the best option for you. If you’d be happy working at another corporate job, brave the interviewing process to find that job.

  1. Do you have a passion to do something and put your life on hold to do it?

Entrepreneurship can be hard, especially at the beginning. You may not have many (or any clients) and cash will be tight. You have to be passionate about what you’re doing to weather the storm.

  1. Are you willing to lose sleep not knowing where the money is coming from?

Unlike at a corporate job, entrepreneurs typically don’t get paid consistently every other week. There’ll bust and boom times. If you’re anxious about this, the entrepreneur life is not for you.

Essentially, if your answer is yes to all three questions, entrepreneurship is to be avoided.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t present some thoughts to turn your “no” into a “yes”, though!

To the first question, how do you know that entrepreneurship wouldn’t make you happier than corporate life unless you take entrepreneurship for a test drive? Many people start their businesses part time while working a full time job. Why not try it to out to see where it goes? It may make you happier than your job, may make you a decent income so you can do it full time.

With the second question, people often put passion projects on the back burner because they don’t think they can make money doing them. If you’re able to see a progress, perhaps you’re more willing to put your life on hold to see it through.

The third question – this a tough one.  Money concerns keep a lot of people up at right – entrepreneurs and employees alike. Employees feel comfort in knowing when they get paid. But they can lose their jobs at any time – without notice. What am I getting at? You never know where the money is coming from. Don’t let that be a reason to forego entrepreneurship.

Have I convinced you? Perhaps if you listen to the podcast with Gregg Ward, the success he’s had with his business will do so. Listen in at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/neilthompsonspeaks/2016/11/07/neil-thompson-speaks–gregg-ward.

 

When the time is right…

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I’m not an expert. I’m just a guy who likes to think about stuff.

“The company offers great health insurance benefits and a 401(k) match.”

“I was planning on taking a vacation soon.”

“I need to pay off some bills first.”

Do any of you want to leave your job? Do any of the preceding statements apply to you, though? If so, sounds like you’re waiting for a better time to quit. But is there ever a good time?

I was working at a job for a few years and increasingly became disgruntled with it. I had so many ideas, but they’d be swiftly shot down after I proposed them. I even ended up doing some training on my own dime to benefit my exit strategy. But when it came time to quit, over and over again, I hesitated. I’d think to myself, “Yeah, I want to quit, but my dental insurance is top notch. My dentist even said so.” I have cavities on top of cavities, so dental is a big deal!

I’d say to myself, “Yeah, I want to leave this job right now, but there’s a kickass 401(k) match. That’s free money!” I was getting a dollar for dollar match. Hard to pass up.

I very rarely went on vacations. But even then, I’d say to myself, “If I change jobs now, I won’t get to take vacation until the probationary period is up.”

I was debt free, but I’d say to myself, “My car could break down at any moment. I need this job to pay the bill.”

I made all kinds of excuses. But here’s something I didn’t make…any sense.

The job I had wasn’t the only one that offered dental insurance. The job I had wasn’t the only one that offered a 401(k) match. I could negotiate with a new employer on my eligibility to take vacation days. And last time I checked, jobs offered money in exchange for doing work. I’d have money to pay for car repairs sooner or later. So now what am I left with?

Is there ever a good time to quit? I’d say yes. The best time to quit is when you’re unhappy with your job and you don’t see the situation changing. After you’ve exhausted every avenue to make things better for yourself, why stay? All the perks in the world aren’t going to mask over the fact that you want to leave. I had a former coworker who stayed at a job she eventually couldn’t stand. I recently heard from her, and she mentioned one of the reasons she stayed was because of the health insurance – as if her employer was the only one on the planet to offer it.

Believe in yourself. You will find another job – one that is worthy of your talents. Why waste away at a job you don’t like, denying yourself of happiness? Don’t delay your exit. Start looking for a job while you have one. Employers look favorably on employed job seekers. Don’t let vacation days or a car repair that hasn’t even happened yet keep you from quitting. You deserve what you want, after all.

Next week, another excuse to slash and burn. Stay tuned!

Do you have a great invention idea and want to keep others from ripping it off?

If so, I'm sure you must have questions about the patent application process.

 

Download this primer on the patent application process to get off to the right start!

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