Beat the (Patent) Clock

© By Stephen Paul Gnass

A patent is a very important part of the process of inventing. But there are certain aspects of this process that are a complete surprise to many inventors when they finally learn the reality of the patent process.

Submarine Fees:

One of these aspects is that there are ongoing patent fees "after" the application fees for the patent. I call these "submarine" fees because, like a surprise attack from a submarine, they come right on the heels of applying for a patent. Yes, when your patent finally gets approved - after an appeal or two - you get the privilege of paying a patent "issue" fee when the patent is granted.

Then, there are "maintenance" fees every few years, with the first one due after a period of four years. These maintenance fees actually increase with time, and if they're not paid when due on a timely basis, it puts the patent into suspension and eventually into the public domain where anybody can make it without paying you one penny.

Diminishing Value

Most inventors that I've talked with over the years, feel protected by the patent and believe that their invention's value will remain the same throughout the whole patent duration. They think that they will receive the same kind of financial deal no matter when it happens within the patent's life.

But probably the most surprising factor to inventors, is that while the maintenance fees continue to go up, the patent depreciates in value and each year it becomes worth less and less in the marketplace.

The reason why the patent value diminishes over time, is that any businessperson, licensee, manufacturer, etc. who takes on the invention, will need as much time as possible to get his/her return on investment (ROI) back. After negotiating the deal, it also takes time to set up and establish the manufacturing, distribution, and sales and marketing systems, etc. So after this initial start-up period, they will want the balance of the time protected by the patent to sell the product. Obviously, a patent with the maximum time left is more valuable and beneficial to an investor/licensee.

So sitting on your patent, and waiting for somebody to magically (poof) come along to buy or invest in it, can be a sure way to find that you have an invention that not only has very little time left to make the best possible deal, but has diminished in value, which makes it even harder to get a deal.

There are exceptions to every rule, and this is not to say that someone with a patent that has two, five or eight to ten years couldn't still make a good deal come about. But in general, years of inactivity after the patent is issued, doesn't fare well for the inventor in getting the invention licensed.

So you can see that without action before, during, and after the patent has been issued, you're just spending time, energy, money and resources for a piece of paper called a "patent".

This is why I always tell my clients about the importance of maximizing the U.S. patent system i.e. using the First-to-Invent system and the Provisional Patent Application (PPA), and the proper patent filing - all at the right time. This helps give inventors years of extra protection without huge upfront costs, and gives them the maximum time to get the proper exposure for their invention to the buyers i.e. licensees or investors.

Beat the (Patent) Clock

So what does all of this mean to inventors? It means that from the get-go, instead of sitting back and hoping and wishing for a deal, that inventors need to take proactive steps to actively seek out licensees, manufacturers, investors, distributors, etc.

If you were patent pending, and then issued a patent, and now you're at your first maintenance fees that need to be paid, and you still haven't done anything to license or get your invention into the marketplace, shame on you! If this sounds like you, then you haven't got a minute to spare, it's time to take action and get moving!

There are a multitude of ways to reach prospective buyers, licensees, etc. For example, inventors have options like advertising in publications that reach their target, participating in trade shows, contacting qualified companies directly, and exhibiting in online venues like our cybershow. But I do believe that it's important to have a mix of passive as well as aggressive venues.

It's similar to the process of looking for a job where you're simultaneously answering classified ads in newspapers or magazines, looking up job listings on internet web sites, posting resumes on web sites, mailing out resumes to a targeted list of companies, registering with job placement firms, dropping in on companies, networking, etc. I believe that it isn't any one specific thing that inventors do, but that results come from a mix of as many options as they can afford to do.

The process of finding qualified licensees or investors isn't quite as clear cut as finding a job, and that's where I come in. Similar to a career counselor, I try to help inventors see all their options and do as much as they can with as little costs as possible, or in many cases, for no costs at all.

For example, in consultations with my cyber-exhibiting clients [two hours are included with the cyber-show, but some clients have preferred to just buy a block of consulting hours], the classic example of what I do is to look at each inventor's unique situation, then I guide them in customizing a strategy for an outreach program to help them go after these targeted markets in conjunction with their cyber-exhibiting. There are ways that they can do this themselves, or they can delegate these activities to individuals or companies. I often have recommendations on how to do this with little or no expenditure.

Yet everything takes time, including this process of researching, finding, contacting, and negotiating with potential licensees and investors. So now that you're aware of the fact that there's a clock ticking on maximizing your value of the patent, as I said earlier, if you're to capitalize on your intellectual property - your invention, the patent - bottom line, there's not one minute to spare!

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Stephen Paul Gnass is founder of, Executive Director of the National Congress of Inventor Organizations [NCIO] and an inventors advocate. Mr. Gnass speaks on the subject of the "Business of Inventing" [tm] and has had his articles reprinted in various magazines. As Senior Consultant with the Gnass Group, he consults independent inventors, entrepreneurs, and small businesses. He can be emailed at or visit


A SPECIAL NOTE: Complimentary Brainstorm:
If you're further along the path of inventing and are ready to launch your product, and need assistance in determining whether to license your idea or build a company around your invention, I'll be more then happy to offer you a Complimentary Brainstorm, no obligation. For a Complimentary Brainstorm, please be sure to include your phone number with area code and your time zone [continental U.S.] with the best times to call you back in your email. If you're in Canada or another country, email us for special instructions.
Sincerely Stephen Paul Gnass

P.S. I offer additional brainstorming as part of the cyber-exhibiting program. Or, if you have special projects or problems and you need some brainstorming, I also offer a-la- carte consulting sessions with a special rate for inventors.



Situations like these, that I describe in these articles, are snapshots at the time that I write them. Things may change, for example, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office rules or laws may change, etc. In addition to the constant research that we're doing, I would like to personally speak with anyone that has had a similar or related experience. Feel free to email me at and include the best time to get in touch with you.

This article is for general information purposes only and is not a substitute for legal counsel or financial services. The information provided is accurate to the best of our knowledge, and we are not liable for any omissions or incorrect information. It is the responsibility of the reader to verify any legal information with appropriate professionals. If you need specific legal assistance, we recommend that you contact an attorney or accountant.


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