Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Joy of Patent Work

I've been trying to get the patent applications in order for the stuff we've been working on at Team46 for the past couple of months. Oh the joy of government legalese!

The US Patent & Trademark Office says:
“The USPTO will accept color drawings in utility patent applications and statutory invention registrations only after granting a petition explaining why the color drawings are necessary. Any such petition must include the following:

the appropriate fee set forth in 37 CFR §1.17(h)

three sets of color drawings; and

the following language as the first paragraph in that portion of the specification relating to the BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE SEVERAL VIEWS OF THE DRAWING. If the language is not in the specification, an amendment to insert the language must accompany the petition.”

Blaarghh!!! Please, kill me now.

Oh yeah… and THIS gem…

“The number of each sheet should be shown by two Arabic numerals placed on either side of an oblique line, with the first being the sheet number and the second being the total number of sheets of drawings, with no other marking.”

Oh, is that a fancy way of saying number sheets like 2 of 5 in this way; 2/5 ?

An oblique line!!?!? Grrr….

So if you've been tasked with taking care of IP stuff for your start-up let me give you some handy tips that I've come to so far...

Hire a lawyer
No, really. Time is one of your most precious commodities. Don't waste it on crap like trying to figure out the fancy government talk above.

Really prepare to talk to your lawyer
I like to write down all of my ideas, no matter how wacky or obvious, and get them in one big list. I write a short description (like two sentences) so I have a good idea of what I'm talking about. I also include diagrams or screenshots if I have them. Then I print out the list of ideas (with the numbers) as a table of contents and the ideas with their short descriptions with one idea per page. This way I have plenty of whitespace on my pages to take notes on what the lawyer says.

Types and Costs of Filings
There are two types of patent filings; Provisional (PF) and Utility (UF). Utility filings are what people typically think of when they think “patent”.



Cheaper ($500-$5k) More expensive (see below)
12 mo. then abandon or file utility 20 yrs from filing or 17 yrs from issue
Establish date for “prior art” Establish exclusivity protection
Cannot be “tweaked” much before U.F. Can be tweaked or amended significantly
Not published Published

Figure 1 – Comparison of Provisional and Utility Filings

For Utility filings the costs based upon size and complexity of filing are t-shirt sized like this:

Size & Complexity

Initial Filing

2-3 Years Later

Low $12k +- 2k $12k
Medium $15k +- 2k $15k
High $18k +- 2k $18k

Gov.t Fees $1.5k - $2.5k

Figure 2 – Estimates of Costs for Utility Filings

One advantage to a Utility Filing is that it forces you to go through the whole process and see what needs to be shored up in any Provisional Filings you want to file.

It may also be worth your while to read through a few actual patents. Once you get past the language you can start to see how they are organized and what they are looking for in terms of specificity and organization. The US Patent Office has a pretty usable patent search site that covers both applications and grated patents.

That's about all I can think of right now. My eyeballs are about to fall out. Time to go home and drink myself to sleep. Thanks Patent Office.

Monday, May 07, 2007

To bug or not to bug

That is the question.

I used to be a software tester. In a way that's like saying, "I used to be an alcoholic." Just because you've moved on doesn't mean it stops defining a lot of your behavior. You see a bug and... well... it bugs you. You want it fixed.

So you see some trivial but vaguely troubling thing on a site and because your fingers can type a bug report on their own without your actually having to tell them to, bada-bing; the site owner gets a little nasty bomb in their inbox.

You're trying to help. You "just want to help them make their site better." But what you're actually doing is sucking the gumption right out of them. It isn't helping, it's hurting.

I did this recently.

The nice folks at Construx (who I think are quite good and who I rather like personally as well as professionally) put up a forums and blogs site for their training & consulting firm.

Now in my defense I wasn't trying to do something completely insane. I created a account, logged in, and could not see the forums or the blogs. This struck me as something they'd like to know about.

And here's where I went wrong. I wrote a bug report...

Sent From: brucephenry
Subject: Bug: If not logged in email form blanks after login


  1. goto
  2. Login
  3. Open another tab in your browser
  4. Click Send Earl an email link on the right
  5. In other window logout
  6. Type your message to Earl and hit [Send Email] button


Prompt to login followed by a blank email form.


Prompt to login followed by "Thanks your email was sent" page (presumably along with sending the email as typed).

Bruce P. Henry

Why does the bug report have nothing at all to do with not being able to see the forums?

Well, I tried to send that one but as you can see above, if you're not logged in, you can't send email.

So why was I logged out?

Because if I was logged in I couldn't see the forums and so I also couldn't get the link in the forums to send mail.

As Earl says, "Arrrgg!"

This doesn't make me right. It just makes me a dork.

Earl is right (and he calls me on it). It really is a selfish thing to send this kind of crap.

He didn't ask me to test his site. He asked me to use it. To read it. To come play in it. He was my host and I threw rocks through his windows.

I was a poor guest. But it didn't have to be like this.

I just as easily could have sent a conversational, friendly email that said things like, "Hi! How's it going? It's really great that you guys have these blogs and forums and I'm looking forward to reading them." All of which is absolutely true.

"Hey I've noticed that I'm having trouble reading the forums and blogs when I'm signed in. This makes it hard for me to write comments on your blogs or post to the forums. The site looks great though and I'm really happy to see you folks building more of a community around your best practices stuff!"

That's all it would have taken. Just a little conversational civility.

I'm such a dork.