How to Protect a Construction-Related Invention

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Whether by necessity or by accident, what should contractors do if they develop a unique tool to accomplish some portion of their work faster, easier or less expensively?

May 10, 2021
Patrick Barthet - Construction Executive

They say necessity is mother of invention. That was surely true for Johan Vaaler, who in 1899 decided he was tired of having to sew pages together to keep them organized. Voila, enter the paper clip. This wasn’t the case for Percy Spencer. He was a radar tube designer working at Raytheon who, while working in front of an active radar set, noticed the candy bar in his pocket started to melt. Exploring the phenomenon further, he placed corn kernels in front of the radar and behold, he ended up with the world’s first microwaved popcorn. He patented the microwave oven in 1945.

Whether by necessity or by accident, what should contractors do if they develop a unique tool to accomplish some portion of their work faster, easier or less expensively? How do they protect it from misappropriation by competitors, or by an errant employee? We are all familiar with the fact that in today’s internet-driven market, it has become very easy to reverse engineer and knock off an innovative product.

The best way to safeguard an invention is, of course, to register it with the appropriate government agency:the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Generally done with the assistance of a patent lawyer, the process is neither inexpensive or abbreviated. It could cost several thousand dollars and take 12 to 18 months. But, more importantly, this is not sufficient. Inventors must regularly monitor their patents to police possible infringers. Many folks think the USPTO does this, but it does not.

Reprinted courtesy of Patrick Barthet, Construction Executive, a publication of Associated Builders and Contractors. All rights reserved.

Mr. Barthet may be contacted at pbarthet@barthet.com



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